VA joins Internet2 consortium

Veterans Affairs Department makes plans for delivering on the promise of IPv6

The Veterans Affairs Department has joined Internet2 as an affiliate member, giving the largest civilian agency and the country's largest health care provider access to a high-performance research and education network with global connections.

VA is using the network to prepare for delivery of next-generation medical services, such as high-resolution imaging, telepresence, telepathology and IP video service for home health care. One of the key tools that will be used in those technologies is IPv6, which is slowly being implemented in government networks.

VA is incorporating IPv6 into its health care delivery plans, said Steven Pirzchalski, VA's IPv6 transition manager.

'IPv6 really is the driver for our future technologies,' Pirzchalski said at a recent conference on the new protocol. 'When your people in charge of application development are thinking about this, it is resonating.'

Pirzchalski said the department began making plans to join Internet2 about a year ago. The consortium of research and education organizations has been pioneering advanced networking technology since 1996. VA established a test bed that it could use to experiment with new applications before deciding which ones would work and be cost-effective for the agency.

'We want to do this in a very thoughtful way,' Pirzchalski said.

VA connects to Internet2 through the Mid-Atlantic Crossroads network via a secure Internet gateway in the Washington area. The Mid-Atlantic Crossroads is a regional optical network consortium founded by Georgetown University, George Washington University, the University of Maryland and Virginia Tech.

VA's distributed service-delivery system includes 250,000 employees, 155 medical centers and 1,400 sites nationwide, so developing advanced networking technology is a high priority in VA's long-term goals. The department is also involved in medical research with organizations worldwide. IPv6 is one tool for helping to deliver advanced applications, and all federal agencies have prepared their core networks to handle IPv6 traffic, although applications using the technology have been slow to come online.

VA officials are selecting a suite of applications that will be used on its test network. Among them are tools for imaging, which is widely used throughout the department; disaster recovery, with the rapid setup of ad hoc networks; and research and development by health care specialists nationwide.

VA has been allocated a share of IPv6 addresses that will let it use those applications. 'The cut is very generous,' Pirzchalski said, adding that the agency has an allocation that contains billions of addresses. 'We're good.'

One challenge remaining for VA in delivering advanced applications to desktop PC users is connecting the last mile to remote facilities, many of which are served by T1 or slower connections.

'The endpoints are our major challenge,' Pirzchalski said. Conservative estimates of the cost of connecting fiber to all locations are in the billions of dollars. 'We trenched part of the optical ring we have now. It was not a fun exercise.'

He said department officials hope that land-based wireless and satellite services can help link remote locations to the broadband connections they will need for advanced telemedicine applications.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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