Fort Campbell

Fort Campbell goes lean and green with passive optical LAN

When Fort Campbell consolidated its Soldier Readiness Processing program in a new facility, network administrators had the opportunity to start from scratch.

To support voice, data and video communications for the human resources, finance and legal departments as well as portions of the base hospital the Army needed a secure, reliable and  energy-efficient network  solution that could tackle all the IT operations necessary to process 4,000 soldiers each month.

Gigabit passive optical networking (GPON) delivered the cost savings, energy efficiency and security Fort Campbell was looking for, said John Hoover, vice chair of the marketing subcommittee of the Association for Passive Optical LAN and a product manager for Tellabs.  It collapses the traditional architecture to reduce the amount of required equipment and cabling while also converging voice, data and video services onto a single, fiber medium.

When Fort Campbell’s network enterprise center planners compared costs, they discovered that the optical fiber-based GPON solution would save Fort Campbell more than $1.5 million over a traditional copper-based active Ethernet LAN, Tellabs said.

The solution also helped Fort Campbell reduce the power and energy their facilities used because the passive architecture requires no power within the fiber and optical devices that distribute signals to end users. That means the network produces less heat, delivering energy savings of up to 80 percent when compared with traditional copper-based LAN, Tellabs said.

Fort Campbell was also able to reduce its cabling, floor, rack and closet requirements.  A typical copper-based LAN serving up to 2,000 users requires 90 rack units of space, Tellabs said.  But an optical LAN, because of its density, can serve up to 8,000 users with only one equipment rack, for which only 11 rack units are needed. And less equipment to power, monitor and cool contributes to additional energy savings.

In terms of security, Hoover explained that fiber is more secure than traditional copper-based LANs.  “Fiber is not sensitive to electrical magnetic emission…fiber is harder to tap into,” he said. At Fort Campbell, the fiber is armored, alarmed and monitored, sending notifications if there is a potential threat or intrusion, Hoover explained. Plus the fewer number of devices on the optical LAN limits access to network switches that could compromise data, said Michael Wilson, member of the technology committee for the Association for Passive Optical LAN and solution engineer for Tellabs.

While passive optical LANs are starting to become more common, most of the Defense Department’s IT staff are trained in Cisco, Juniper and  Brocade solutions, Wilson said.  “Passive optical LAN training programs have not made it into many of the defense training universities yet,” he said. 

“The networking community has been utilizing active switching for 30 years," he added. "So much like the switch from digital phones systems to voice over IP or eight track to cassette back in the day, it’s a paradigm shift and it’s very disruptive.”

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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