Baltimore MAN unites agencies citywide

Baltimore MAN unites agencies citywide

One goal of the project is to fulfill the CIO's motto: 'One City, One IT'

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

By building a metropolitan area network, Baltimore is prompting a continental shift in agency systems.

The MAN and new citywide standards will technically unite the city's 72 agencies at 300 sites. Until recently, the agencies were islands unto themselves in terms of systems growth, said Bill Berg, technical support manager of the city's Bureau of Information Technology Services (BITS).

The bureau was included in those islands and so welcomed a vendor partnership to broaden its horizons, Berg said. It hired Telecommunication Systems Inc. (TCS), of Annapolis, Md., 18 months ago to help build the MAN.

'The goal is to get everybody on the same sheet of music, playing the same song,' TCS network manager Edward 'Woody' Davis said.

The project follows the 'One City, One IT' motto of its first-ever chief information officer, Elliot Schlanger. Schlanger, who took the post a year ago, wants to ultimately improve customer service through better data exchange and strong IT standards. But first things first.

'You have to build the highway before you can get to where you want to be,' Schlanger said.

A SmartSwitch Router 8000 will support Baltimore's metropolitan area network. The city and its contractor are still assessing equipment for various agency locations.

Up to 48 now

A couple of years ago, the Fire and Police departments began laying a fiber ring around the city to support emergency communications. BITS and the Enoch Pratt Free Library joined the project to install additional fiber. There are 48 fibers in all now, four of which are active. TCS is helping the city figure out how to best configure the others.

A SmartSwitch Router 8000 from Cabletron Systems Inc. of Rochester, N.Y., will support the MAN's 10/100-Mbps and 1G Ethernet backbone.

'The SSR is really our first big step into an enterprise,' systems programmer Sara Yosua said.

TCS is inventorying the LAN infrastructures of city agencies and building a common e-mail system. Agencies will link to the IP network through a variety of yet-to-be-chosen routers, switches and shared-media hubs, Davis said.

Token technology

Some token-ring technology still exists around the city; for example, the Municipal Employees Credit Union will use a 5005BH router from Nortel Networks Corp. of Brampton, Ontario, to link some of the older technology to the new.

The bureau recently contracted with Bell Atlantic Corp. for a citywide T3 Internet connection. City agencies previously connected to the Net through the Pratt library.

Getting agencies to agree on system standards was daunting, not because 'they're being obstinate, but because they've gone in their own directions,' Berg said.

For example, one agency had implemented an e-mail system with 800 mailboxes on a few servers. The agency happened to have chosen an organization name for the system that didn't match the standard for the city e-mail system, which is running Microsoft Exchange Server.

'So that organization name, even though it may be one word or one letter different, is causing us grief in linking and putting site connectors between the central city system and the agency,' Berg said.

The team is exploring Exchange utilities that would do much of the work for them, Berg said. The city would rather build bridges to current systems'mostly from Microsoft Corp.'than make agencies conform to software standards immediately.

TCS' Doug Krebbs is at work mimicking the e-mail systems of other agencies, creating models to link them to the integrated system and eliminating bugs. As he figures each one out, BITS takes both systems down one night and links them.


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