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Campus is going on line with network that will integrate voice, video, data.

Campus Is Going On Line with Network That Will Integrate Voice, Video, Data

Administrators at The George Washington University (GW) in Washington, DC, realized three years ago that its rotary-dial phones and mounting telephone charges were no longer in the best interests of the university community. In response, school administrators embarked on an ambitious program that may redefine communications on a college campus.

Installation is now under way of a new communications system, owned and operated by the university, that will interconnect 70 academic buildings, libraries, student residences and administration facilities. The system is designed to streamline a variety of educational and administrative functions while opening up new areas for increased productivity and efficiency.

When completed in early 1987, the integrated voice/data/video network will provide the university with sophisticated voice services, will carry data traffic at speeds up to 19.2 kb/s, and also will transmit video signals for GW's private cable-TV system through coaxial cable and new lightwave fiber.

Open-Architecture Network Planned

After reviewing competitive bids, GW administrators chose AT&T's Information Systems group as the vendor to supply and integrate advanced communications equipment for the network. AT&T's proposal included a System 85 digital PBX for voice and data switching and a local data network, called Information Systems Network (ISN), for high-volume data communications. Fiber optics will be used for connections between switch nodes in both systems.

These network components are key ingredients of AT&T's Information Systems Architecture, an open architecture that defines how voice and data-processing hardware, software and transmission systems communicate to form a single information network.

"AT&T is building a communications system for us that allows for up-to-the-minute transmission of voice and data to make educational pursuits more efficient,' comments Charles Diehl, George Washington University's vice president and treasurer.

A major consideration for many network planners is the ability to integrate existing equipment from a variety of vendors into their networks. AT&T has designed its Information Systems Architecture for a high degree of compatibility with other vendors' systems. This open architecture permits the university's communications planners to implement voice and data systems without the fear that they will be rendered obsolete by tomorrow's technology.

A Variety of Vendors Can Be Used

In the George Washington network, for example, personal computers, terminals and minicomputer systems from a variety of vendors will be able to communicate with each other through the PBX and data network. Various methods are employed to accomplish the necessary protocol conversions to enable different vendors' equipment to communicate with each other and with host computer systems. Also, by making it possible for GW to upgrade its system while maintaining equipment compatibility, the university's investment in hardware, software and training is protected.

The PBX will initially service 8300 lines, with the capability to provide up to 30,000 lines as the university's network expands. Users will have at their fingertips such enhanced voice features as abbreviated dialing, call coverage and call forwarding. The older rotary-dial phones will be replaced with Touch-Tone units and digital-display sets to take advantage of the voice capabilities of the switch.

With the architecture providing the strategic framework for the evolution of equipment, the university will be able to migrate at its own pace toward more functions and broader applications of its information system.

Interfaces Handle Both Voice and Data

The desktop interface to the system includes the digital-display telephone sets incorporated into the George Washington network.

Alongside the familiar modular telephone jack used for voice communications, an identical connector will be installed in every student resident's room and in each professor's office for access to the local data network. Approximately 2600 data terminations will be provided.

Through this separate data network, the campus community will be able to use all types of personal computers and terminals to access electronic message systems on the university's departmental minicomputer systems and most of its mainframe computers. Students will be able to research library resources without leaving both voice and data communications. hand out assignments and grade papers electronically over the network.

Network Also Carries TV Channels

The system will also carry television channels in the university's cable-television system. University seminars, theatrical events, surgical operations performed at the university hospital, and lectures from remote classrooms will be able to reach an extended audience through the video system.

"We wanted an information-management network, not just a telephone system,' Diehl remarks.

As mentioned at the beginning, the George Washington network project took shape in 1983 in an effort to control rising telephone costs. University administration had grown frustrated at the burgeoning costs and coordination requirements of rearranging telephone lines and meeting increased demand on the system. As a result, it had to consider taking more-direct control over its communications system, according to Diehl.

Computer Popularity Taxed Resources

At the same time, specialized minicomputer networks began to appear at GW's various schools, including law, medical center, engineering and business schools. Requests for private telephone circuits to connect host and terminal systems blossomed. A number of special-purpose computer centers were opened for the students to use for accessing specialized minicomputer systems. The popularity of the computer centers quickly taxed the university's resources for terminals, host-access time and network facilities.

"Students were standing in line to use the computers at all hours of the day,' says Diehl. "At the same time, our communications complex was starting to look like a heap of spaghetti. We were running wires all over the place to interconnect central-computer ports to remote terminals.'

The longer university officials looked at the problem, explains Diehl, the more obvious it became that a university-owned communications switch could provide both the required flexibility for line installations and access to the data networks.

According to Diehl, "The open design of the network also allows for the integration of existing equipment, as well as the flexibility to add new equipment in the future.'

For the PBX portion of the network, that flexibility means that the university could triple the size of its telephone network without the expense of a second switch. That's a key consideration, says Diehl, because every telephone station will be equipped with modular jacks for booth voice and data communications.

The data circuits are expected to be activated as user demand warrants. The capability of the switch to activate new circuits with the simple addition of a line card means that the network can easily be expanded as demand for new circuits grows. The exchange also allows the university to perform new line installations and station moves with its own personnel.

For Bob Longshore, GW's telecommunications systems director, network support and maintenance were among the key factors in choosing the vendor. Although the university's technical personnel will take responsibility for overall network maintenance, AT&T will provide software maintenance support.

"I like the fact that the vendor has maintenance people standing by that I can rely on for emergency assistance,' Longshore comments.

Distributed Architecture for Data

An important feature of the data network is its distributed architecture, according to Don Steward, associate director for technical services for the university's telecommunications. Data concentrators serve as local distribution nodes for various parts of the campus and allow a high degree of flexibility in meeting future demand from users.

"If we have a need for a lot of stations in one location all of a sudden, we can accommodate them,' Steward remarks. "The cost per connection is reasonable. You don't have to be an electronics expert to wire it, and the system diagnostics are impressive.'

The architecture is designed to provide a cost-effective wiring plan for intra-building or interbuilding networks. The GW system can satisfy both current and future network requirements by ensuring a smooth evolution of the physical plant.

The university's premises distribution system is based on interconnecting desktop workstations, computers and voice/data switches with hair-thin lightguides and conventional twisted-pair cable. Optical fibers are being installed for trunk application.

AT&T will also work with the university in training departmental coordinators on the network's features. Beginning last September, approximately 150 GW representatives have attended training sessions on the system. They, in turn, will be responsible at the department level for familiarizing users with the network.

"The technology is moving fast, but I feel comfortable that our system will last, is flexible, and can be upgraded easily to meet our growth,' Longshore says.

Photo: Charles Diehl, vice president and treasurer of The George Washington University, Washington, DC, is pleased that the university's new communications system "allows for up-to-the-minute transmission of voice and data to make educational pursuits more efficient.' Because of the heavy demand on university resources for computers, terminals, host-access time and network facilities, "Our communications complex was starting to look like a heap of spaghetti,' he says. "We were running wires all over the place to interconnect central-computer ports to remote terminals.'
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Apr 1, 1986
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