Colorado turns AF base into digital center

Colorado turns AF base into digital center

Closed Denver site is now a training lab for communications techs

By Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

When the Air Force closed Denver's Lowry Air Force Base in October 1994, the surrounding community lost its economic mainstay. What do you do with two square miles of Air Force base once it has closed? Turn it into a theme park? A shopping mall? Hardly credible options for a collection of deserted runways, barracks, office buildings and workshops.

Lowry had been through a lot of changes in its 60-year existence. It was the first home of the U.S. Air Force Academy and the summer home of President Dwight D. Eisenhower while he was in office. In the 1960s, Lowry was a test range for Titan missiles, and in the 1980s it was a space control command center, equipped with its own generator and blast walls.

In February of last year, Colorado officials partnered with Lucent Technologies Inc. and Bell Labs Innovations of Murray Hill, N.J., to revive Lowry. The plan? Go digital.

The team transformed Lowry's 18 buildings into the Higher Education and Advanced Technology (HEAT) Center, an academy to teach local workers telecommunications skills. At the heart of HEAT is the Convergent Technologies Innovations Lab (CTIL), a training lab dedicated to Internet services, data networking and video communications.

At the Higher Education and Advanced Technology Center, students and local residents can get access to e-mail, newsgroups and the Internet via four SGI servers.

Down but not out

'Lowry was the poster child for base closings,' said Rick Mann, director of CTIL.

At the center of HEAT is a cable vault with a backbone infrastructure, Mann said. Most of the center's hardware comes from SGI, including all of its servers. SGI's Professional Services team designed and installed HEAT's Internet services, as well as its planned distance-learning program.

The team built the HEAT infrastructure on an SGI Origin 2000 server running MediaBase, a Web-based video delivery software from SGI offshoot Kasenna Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., said SGI account manager Martina Nowak McElroy. MediaBase delivers video in Apple QuickTime, RealVideo, MPEG1 and MPEG2 formats, McElroy said.

Students and the community residents can link to newsgroups and e-mail over four SGI servers: an Origin 200 e-mail server with a Mips R10000 processor and 256M of RAM; two Origin 200 bulletin board system servers with gigachannel expansions'one of which functions as an Internet service provider server'and an Origin 2200 media server with 32G of RAM. The servers are administered from an SGI O2 workstation with a Mips RM5200 processor and 32M of RAM, which provides sole access from the central HEAT classroom. There's also an SGI 320 PC with a 500-MHz Pentium III processor and 128M of RAM for graphically intensive multimedia work.

The ISP is connected to a Cajun M770 multifunction fault-tolerant switch from Lucent that can handle voice, video and data on asynchronous transfer mode or Ethernet backbones.

Mann compared Lowry and the HEAT Center to small Jura Mountain villages in Switzerland, the hub of the watch industry since the 16th century. Starting in the 1970s, the Swiss watch industry faced competition from East Asian manufacturers. Unfazed, the Swiss engineers and craft workers translated their precision watch-making skills into making equipment for artificial hearts.

'People who live in Colorado know the hard truth: You need a job,' Mann said. Coloradans are entrepreneurs at heart, he said. 'If we can channel all that entrepreneurial energy into the Internet, it could really do something. Colorado's gold mining industry collapsed in the early 1900s. The new gold we're mining is information technology. The miners in 1849 needed someone to outfit them,' Mann said. 'Well, Lucent is outfitting these new miners.'

A technical concern

One of HEAT's purposes is technical outreach to what Mann calls Colorado's 'little devastated towns''where industrial-era economies based on mining or oil have collapsed.

Mann and his team studied Sedgwick County as the first remote site for the HEAT Center. The county has a population of 3,000. After people graduate from high school, they leave, he said. Mann's group is training students in five high schools to be webmasters. 'They'll be selling Web sites to businesses instead of candy bars,' Mann said.

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