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LAN revolutionized data handling at Army's Tank Command.

Communications at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Command (TACOM) in suburban Detroit use to require a lot of patience. Now data moves at the speed of the light around the fiber backbone of a 1,500-PC local area network.

TACOM is in the midst of a massive network installation that has brought improved communication to 21 buildings housing thousands of staffers whose job is developing, buying and supplying the Army's tanks and other tracked and wheeled vehicles.

David Feltus, chief of the requirements development and processing branch, says 4,500 PCs will eventually be linked by TWLAN, the TACOM-Wide LAN.

"Prior to this network we had hundreds of standalone computers and a number of small isolated, independent networks scattered around the command," says Feltus. "A broadband network connected three major buildings, and a number of small thicknet and thinnet Ethernets connected DEC minis and Sperry/Unisys 5000 systems, and a variety of other computers.

"The biggest problem was that people couldn't move information between these systems. They would end up carrying tapes or papers around."

Now TACOM has a PC LAN that delivers three key benefits:

* E-mail. "One of the most important benefits we have seen," Feltus says. "We have enabled easy transmittal of documents and data, plus we've eliminated phone tag."

* Standardized software. "We have a standard TWLAN application software suite that we use throughout the LAN. It is nice for people to be able to use one word processing package and spreadsheet."

* Terminal emulation. "Any PC on the command can act as a terminal to TACOM's supercomputer, mainframes and minicomputers. There are 16 minicomputers, three mainframes, and our Cray supercomputer will soon be connected.

"Any one of these key things would have been a revolution in data processing here," Feltus attests. "Altogether, they have had a phenomenal impact. People love the network; they have wholeheartedly embraced it."

Global E-mail

TWLAN's heavily-used E-mail setup also allows users to send Defense Data Network (DDN) messages directly from the network.

"We don't have to log onto a defense network host," says Feltus. "We can just type in a DDN address in our electronic mail. Our incoming DDN messages pass directly to the individual. If you're logged onto the TWLAN, your DDN messages come right down to your server. That message could be from someone in Germany. It doesn't have to be somebody at TACOM sending you a local E-mail message."

Users can also fax directly from the E-mail system. Incoming faxes are received as mail messages.

TWLAN has a number of separate Ethernets connected to an FDDI backbone. There are nine Fibronics FX8210 FDDI-to-Ethernet bridges, and 35 SynOptics 3001 concentrators comprising various Ethernets. Each concentrator supports up to 132 connections.

Work on the project is being done by Synetics, a Wakefield, Mass-based engineering services firm and Clover Communications of Novi, Michigan. Installation began in October 1989 and the backbone was completed in May 1990. Since then, users have been steadily added on a priority basis.

The installation has over 15 miles of fiber, with four pair of multimode fibers and four to eight pair of singlemode fibers. Unshielded twisted pair Ethernets extend the network to the desktop.

The single-LAN approach was used to support automation of TACOM's time and attendance system, Feltus says.

"Information that used to be on time cards is now entered directly into the computer. Employees can check from their PC what their leave status is and whether their hours were properly entered. They used to have to ask a secretary for that information. We've eliminated quite a bit of paperwork with that."

The LAN's setup allows managers to concentrate on its 32 servers rather than on thousands of PCs.

"We can easily change the software on the server electronically and remotely to upgrade to the next release," says Feltus. "You can imagine the time savings. It's a dramatic difference."

Software is stored on the server and downloaded to PCs as needed. That lets TACOM get by with only a 20-concurrent session license for word processing and a five- or six-session license for graphics, databases and spreadsheets, even though there may be 60 PCs connected to a server.

That saves a lot of taxpayers' money, Feltus says. Larger licenses are needed only if users are frequently locked out of an application because all the sessions are in use. Additional savings are achieved through printer sharing, Feltus adds.

Password protection limits access to servers based on user group and individual ID. Users' hard disks are also scanned for viruses as they log on. When one is found, the user is locked out of the network. An E-mail message is automatically sent to network managers. They find the affected PC based on the user ID, eliminate the virus, and allow the PC back on line.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:local area networks
Author:Tanzillo, Kevin
Publication:Communications News
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Words:796
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