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GSA uses fiber to speed costing.


A major retooling project is helping the U.S. General Services Administration's National Capitol Region keep track of where its money goes.

GSA's 47-node network more than doubled in size last year, so GSA increased network speed and reliability with 10-Mb/s fiber links; boosted uptime by retooling from bus to star topology; and added multi-user capabilities by swapping a Lotus-based application for a database in a DOS environment.

A regional office tracks buys, allocations, etc., for several GSA divisions.

An Information Resource Management Administration hub controls seven administrative nodes. The network has bloomed from 47 PC-equipped end-users to around 150.

Financial tracking and nationwide E-mail generate the heaviest traffic. A CC Mail system (from PCC Systems, Palo Alto, Calif.) serves 125 mailboxes across the nation.

Multi-User Edge

GSA now manages data with a SQLBase Server (from Gupta Technologies, Menlo Park, Calif.). The software cost under $10,000, says Database Administrator Nancy Geyer. It runs on GSA's existing equipment. "Our system has become too complex to use Lotus programming," she says.

The speed of SQLBase Server gives GSA the appearance of a multi-user network in a single-user DOS setting. In addition, it provides full SQL (standard query language) support and easy-to-use windows.

Human errors have dropped.

"Account numbers look alike," Mahon says. "If you're entering figures and the phone rings, what you're reading may not be what you're putting into the computer."

The database eliminates such glitches by checking user-input numbers against a list of valid accounts. "You can type in a number and it'll go out and check the table to see if it's valid. Until a valid number is entered, the system won't move," Mahon says.

At the end of a reporting period, each division sends financial reports to a central server, where an analyst creates charts and graphs from menu-driven commands. Soon the end-user will be able to do this.

Bus Didn't Make it

"We have not been fully satisfied with a bus network," Mahon says. "There's a great deal of space between our nodes. If there's a problem in our wiring, it tends to affect everyone on the network." With "10-meg" architecture, "the only way everyone on the network would be affected is if all hubs died at once."

Once completed, the GSA's LAN will consist of a central header hub feeding smaller stars in division offices. "If the fiber backbone is damaged," she says, "you'll still have intra-office communications."

With higher speeds, it will also improve troubleshooting. "We're not going PC to PC; if I lose one node, I know there's a problem between it and the hub."

As many of GSA's divisional networks still communicate over twisted pair, GSA's Office Automation Department installed a 10net MAC bridge to interpret between two types of cabling. An existing AT computer with 10-Mb/s fiber card and a twisted-pair card lets twisted-pair bus users talk to the fiber network.

Users of twisted pair see no difference in operation.

"The bridge takes the beating," Mahon says. "It knows which users are on fiber and which aren't. It checks the recipient name on an E-mail message, passing it from node to node until it reaches its destination,"

To support the fiber network, GSA swapped its 10net 3.3 operating system for the company's newer 10net Plus. The later version's drivers, unavailable on earlier versions, let GSA operate at higher speeds. Other 10Net Plus enhancements include expanded tally screens that help pinpoint network problems, and expanded "chat windows" that let users talk on-line without leaving on-screen jobs.

At press time, GSA had plans to bring one of its two remote connections--the Federal Supply Division, now in Ballston Commons, Va.--into its 7th and D Streets office in downtown Washington.
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Title Annotation:General Services Administration retooling National Capitol Region cost-tracking system
Author:Jesitus, John
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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