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Blazing speeds meet user needs: Coast Guard builds budget LAN for safety.


Deep in the heart of Washington, the Coast Guard Office of M maintains its vigil over the safety of U.S. coasts and waterways.

"M" is the Coast Guard's terse acronym for its Marine Safety operation.

The business of the U.S. Coast Guard is amply demonstrated by its own recent synopsis of an "average" day, on which this smallest of the nation's armed forces saved 16 lives, assisted 361 people, saved $2.5 million in property, completed 154 search-and-rescue cases, responded to 23 oil or hazardous chemical spills, boarded 43 large vessels for port safety checks, inspected 64 commercial vessels, investigated 17 marine accidents, and seized over 3500 pounds of marijuana and 35 pounds of cocaine (street value over $6 million).

Fingering Unsafe Ships

The Office of M's Marine Safety Information System has over 6 gigabytes of data pertaining to ship ownership, inspections, pilotage, and registration history. An unsafe ship, or one that has had problems in the past, can be identified and a boarding decision made even before it pulls into port.

The ship's record is maintained independently of ownership or flag. Ships can be identified precisely, no matter what changes have occurred since the last time the vessel was in a U.S. port. A ship's previous boardings are logged and the data made available at each port; boardings can be better targeted and less frequent.

MSIS operates on Prime minis in Columbus, Ohio. Access is through Telenet using clustered Unisys BTOS workstations. In accordance with its motto, "semper paratus" ("always ready"), the Coast Guard has consistently upgraded its systems to provide improved response. The most recent project was installation of an Ethernet-based LAN to substitute for an earlier cluster-based system.

Spreading The Wealth

"The single BTOS cluster simply became too large," says Commander William H. Fels, project manager. "Besides, we wanted to provide more people with access. Now, everyone has access to MSIS, and we have saved thousands of dollars by using only one leased-line Telenet node instead of the two we had previously."

The network is composed of clustered Unisys BTOS workstations with the clusters linked together by Unisys BNet. The connection to MSIS is via an X.25 gateway installed on one BTOS cluster controller and linked to Telenet with a leased line and a modem. The workstations are actually microcomputers based around the Intel 80-processor family.

Workstations currently in place are mainly B28s, based around the 80286 processor; the master stations for each cluster are B38s, with 80386 processors.

These workstations are designed to run the sophisticated BTOS shared operating system, which Unisys is popularizing as an open system standard. The emphasis is upon access to MSIS, which serves up to 200 concurrent users nationwide from a 3000-person user base.

The goal of the project was twofold: to provide universal access to MSIS and to expand information services with minimal expense using existing wiring.

"The budget has been cut, yet our services have increased," says Fels. "We are always looking for ways to save money. This project has been particularly effective because the alternative--providing a Telenet line for each cluster of workstations--would cost about $1000 per installation, plus a monthly lease charge of at least $700 per line. This way, we only need to draw on one line."

The BTOS workstation cluster approach also saves considerably over the use of PCs on a LAN. Only one LAN unit and transmitter are required per cluster, rather than one per workstation. The BTOS operating system has extensive built-in communications enhancements.

The BTOS workstations support a wide range of office functions centering around Ofis Mail (the Unisys electronic mail system) and an electronic publishing system called Document Designer. The system is tied to a laser printer and is used to produce everything from ordinary correspondence to user manuals and newsletters.

The current system for the Office of M involves a series of 11 workstation clusters with from 16 to 24 workstations per cluster, tied together by the LAN and attached to a repeater. The communications cluster contains the communications master with its Telenet links. The plan is to tie the Unisys thin net system into a VAX and a Sun system, and to the Office of A's (Acquisition) thick net system over a router or bridge.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:local area network
Publication:Communications News
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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