High-Speed Network Backbone Combines Fiber, Wireless Links

May 1999
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Seamless interoperability demonstration addresses government, military information system tasks.

The federal government and the military are pursuing parallel paths to implement information systems as they incorporate commercial off-the-shelf technologies. Their varying paces of implementation have resulted in a polyglot of capabilities that, while different, must still interoperate and evolve as new technologies emerge from commercial innovators.

Both sectors are relying on networked information systems to deliver essential services. For the government, this can range from service to the citizen, to vital law enforcement functions and disaster relief. The military is counting on similar technologies to enable a broad spectrum of battlefield and peacekeeping operations in an era of force reductions and shrinking infrastructure.

Many of these emerging capabilities will be at hand in an advanced technology demonstration backbone on the exhibit floor of GovTechNet International ’99, co-sponsored by AFCEA International and FCW, from June 15 to 17 at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center. The overarching theme of the backbone demonstration is a global networked information enterprise that partners civilian government, the Defense Department and industry.

This advanced technology backbone architecture is built around a synchronous optical network (SONET) ring running at OC-48, or 2,488.32 megabits per second. It features both asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and Internet protocol (IP) backbones connected by two SONET add/drop mixers, or ADMs. Two other SONET ADMs reside at the heart of each backbone. The IP backbone, which runs over SONET and ATM, features four IP routers capable of providing Ethernet, Internet, video, private branch exchange (PBX), cable modem and computer access. The ATM backbone provides PBX, computer and video access, but it also provides telephony and satellite connectivity with a deployed network.

Wireless remote access enables users to tie directly into the SONET ring through a SONET ADM. This 38-gigahertz wireless link provides computer, telephone and video connectivity to both elements of the network.

Two key differences between this backbone and its predecessor at TechNet International ’98 are the number of participants and the focus of the demonstration, according to NET Federal’s Jim Kelly, technical director for the GovTechNet backbone.

“Last year’s theme was that we could create a backbone on the show floor, and it [focused] more on the technology,” he relates. “This year, we are focusing on the applications, the operational aspect of the backbone and deploying the backbone.”

Timeplex Federal Systems’ Gordon Call, director of the GovTechNet ’99 operations team, echoes that sentiment explaining, “A technical solution by itself without an operational focus will come up short.”

Therefore this year, instead of a single company providing the backbone, several participants are contributing to the development of the backbone environment. The interoperable technology allows multiple ATM providers to compose the backbone.

“The emphasis isn’t on the technology of the backbone, but that we can build a multivendor environment,” Kelly explains. For example, all participants can have electronic mail across the backbone and can share a variety of applications.

Potential collaborative applications include Lotus Notes, for example, with IBM and Lotus serving as backbone partners. Other participating companies include Bell Atlantic, Olicom, Cisco Systems Incorporated, Lucent Technologies Government Solutions, Nortel Incorporated, Xylan, AT&T Government Markets, MCI WorldCom Government Markets, Secure Computing Corporation, N.E.T. Federal Incorporated, WinStar, Paradyne, The Boeing Company, NetCom Solutions International Incorporated, Timeplex Federal Systems Incorporated and Force 3 Incorporated.

Backbone video conferencing includes remote access, Kelly says. Other applications include telemedicine, distance learning and data mining. LSA Photonics is providing laser connectivity for wireless links.

This year’s backbone is designed to feature government agencies and the military services. Having the government participate on the backbone is a major goal of the effort, Kelly relates. AFCEA sought input from all the services about which applications they would want demonstrated across the backbone, and their responses formed the basis of application selection.

“The end game is to show the government what industry can do, in that industry can pull together and provide advanced technology to increase their effectiveness,” he says.

Flag and general officers asked to see more knowledge-management tools, Kelly says. This contrasts with a perception that their emphasis is on network-management tools.

The demonstration is not targeted at only the flag and general officer level, however. Kelly offers that technologists, network managers and end-users all can glean insights from the system. Throughout the backbone, a variety of different management tools are available for trial. For operational experts that deploy networks in the field, the backbone can demonstrate how to deploy networks of this type with technologies such as wireless and digital subscriber line (DSL). Logistics experts can experiment with data mining procedures. The goal is to provide usefulness far beyond the needs of just those who build backbones.

“We’re trying to appeal to the people at their desktops who have no idea what a backbone is,” Kelly states. “We want to show them new collaborative applications that they can run regardless of the technology—IP, ATM, SONET or circuit switched voice.”

Call explains that the demonstration is designed to allow customers to experiment with its capabilities. “What we are doing is getting [the backbone network architecture] down to a point where people could see how they could play in it and begin to develop their operational focus and their marketing messages, and have it be meaningful.”

In the architecture schematic, the backbone is designated as enabling technologies for the 21st century. Its conditions, which apply across the spectrum, are commercial off-the-shelf, open systems, standards compliance and interoperability. Its user communities are both civilian government and the Defense Department.

On the Defense Department side, the conceptual framework is the Joint Chiefs’ Joint Vision 2010. This defines the requirements for the global information grid, a network of networks for which the Defense Department envisions multiple platforms. A key element of this global grid is network-centric operations, which will be the heart of how the military fights future wars.

Aspects of network-centric operations that are featured in the backbone include dominant maneuver, precision engagement, full-dimension protection, focused logistics, and joint task force headquarters support. Call explains that these are drivers for Joint Vision 2010. The resulting benefits are a common operational picture, shared awareness, rapid information movement, information assurance, and the availability of a network of networks. The goal is to offer specific Defense Department service applications, he says.

On the government side, the needs of civilian agencies define the requirements for the government information infrastructure. This breaks down into general target areas such as electronic commerce, streamlined business operations and improved public services. Additional aspects include enhanced network performance, smart work, support for disaster relief and law enforcement, to name a few.

Call notes that information technologies in the civilian government sector are more varied, as agencies tend to operate different levels of technologies. Regardless of their different technologies, they still must interoperate, he states.

Between these two sectors resides the industry group. It is providing network services such as transport, switching, management, access and security. Other elements include local area networking, applications, intra/inter World Wide Web services, integration, transaction services and future technologies. “If you are industry and you are providing information technology support, you will fit somewhere here,” Call declares.

He emphasizes that companies need not provide active applications in their exhibit booths to be effective participants. “It isn’t just the people in the backbone [that can benefit]. Anybody that has a booth can be a part of this,” he emphasizes.

With the full backbone featuring both direct ATM and IP atop ATM, applications can move smoothly across both technology backbones. For example, visitors to the exhibit floor can view video applications moving over IP or ATM, depending on their locations in the exhibit area. Collaborative applications are running mostly from IP desktops to feed over the ATM backbone.

While a public debate rages over the choice of IP versus ATM (see page 25), the demonstration’s dual-track approach is not designed to resolve that issue, Kelly explains. Some users theoretically could compare identical functions over the two technologies, but the emphasis on applications tends to override that. In many cases, applications are traveling over both IP and ATM during the course of their network connectivity.

“The architecture is flexible,” he says. “There are applications that are well suited to both technologies at the desktop.”

Kelly expects between 20 and 40 participants on the backbone during the show, but he adds that organizers are open to integrating as many potential participants as possible.

These efforts do not stop at the exhibit hall doors, however. Kelly explains that planners are linking the topics of GovTechNet conference sessions to the backbone demonstration. Presentations may explain how the backbone is built and by which providers. This would clearly illustrate its interoperability, he emphasizes.

Command, Control and Communications Funding Rises for Coming Fiscal Year

However, the slight gain is eliminated for the subsequent budget period as communications spending levels decline.

The U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force are up, the U.S. Navy is down, and operations and maintenance is growing in budget importance as the Department of Defense plans its command, control and communications budget for the next two years. Funding levels for this specialized area remain fairly constant over that time period, with a 1.9 percent increase in fiscal year 2000 negated by a fiscal year 2001 return to 1999 spending.

The Defense Department has earmarked $16.3 billion for command, control and communications (C3) in 2000. This represents a $300 million increase from 1999 spending. However, 2001 C3 budgeting will drop back to $16 billion. The difference lies in procurement, which is slated to decline from $5 billion in 2000 to $4.7 billion in 2001.

One funding adjustment involves transferring funds for the joint surveillance target attack radar system (JointSTARS) from the tactical intelligence and related activities classification into C3. This brings hundreds of millions of dollars into the C3 baseline.

Among the services, the Air Force receives more than half of the total C3 budgets of both 2000 and 2001. Air Force programs account for $8.4 billion in each year, more than the Army and Navy combined, and this represents a $200 million increase over 1999. Army C3 funding totals $2.3 billion in 2000, a $100 million increase over 1999, and it continues rising to $2.4 billion in 2001. Navy C3 funding, however, declines both years, slipping $100 million to $3.8 billion in 2000, on the way to dropping to $3.5 billion in 2001. Mirroring the overall C3 budget, funding for defense agencies increases by $100 million to $1.8 billion in 2000, then it slips back to $1.7 billion in 2001.

When the C3 budget is analyzed by function, communications receives the largest slice of the pie. Its funding jumps from $7 billion in 1999 to $7.4 billion in 2000. It does, however, slip back to $7 billion in 2001. Command and control dips slightly from $4.8 billion to $4.7 billion in 2000, only to return to $4.8 billion in 2001.

Information security increases by $100 million to $1 billion for both 2000 and 2001. Much of this centers on the department’s information systems security program, which is shifting its emphasis away from security to the broader concept of information assurance. This constitutes protection as well as the ability to detect and respond to information infrastructure attacks.

Spending for C3-related items declines from $3.3 billion in 1999 to $3.2 billion in 2000 and 2001. This category covers programs that either provide unique C3 support or cross traditional command and control, communications and intelligence functional areas. These might include surveillance systems, combat identification, navigation and position location, management headquarters and base operations support, and weather and meteorology programs.

Breaking down this funding by appropriation, operations and maintenance receives the largest share and registers the greatest increase. From $5.2 billion in 1999, operations and maintenance leaps almost 8 percent up to $5.6 billion in 2000 and 2001. Procurement also increases, from $4.8 billion in 1999 to $5 billion in 2000. However, this total drops to $4.7 billion in 2001. Research, development, test and evaluation declines slightly from $2.8 billion in 1999 to $2.7 billion in 2000 and 2001.