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Union Carbide network balances economy, growth.


In the 1980s, Union Carbide faced the same two-headed monster that menaced all U.S. industrials. The spectre of budget overstrain frowned down from the one head, the cold threat of obsolete technology from the other.

Union Carbide girded its loins and did what it took.

The Industrial Gases Division has distinguished itself with innovations in networking. Members of this Computer Services team, based in Danbury, Conn., have responded to the seemingly incompatible imperatives of cost and technology.

Bryce Morgan, manager of communications planning, wraps it up: "The network is seven times as big as three years ago, with the same number of people, and our budget stays the same every year."

Industrial Gases was formerly known as the Linde Division. The Data Center is in the Linde Building at Danbury. Dick Heidel heads Linde Computer Services. Reporting directly to him is John Barton, manager of Technical Planning Systems Support. They are the chief engineers of "LindeNet" --an innovative, centrally managed, private packet-switched resource shared by all division sites.

The host-independent X.25 network support Data General, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM mainframes and minicomputers and just about every kind of PC. Industrial Gases leases 15% of its lines, including its high-speed digital backbone, from the parent company but owns its packet switches and PADs.

"Before LindeNet," says Bob Richards, communications planner, "we had six different networks across the U.S. Now we've merged all six into one." By year's end, LindeNet may serve more than 60 locations nationwide.

Most new sites are being added on the packet-switched portion of the network. LindeNet serves more than 2000 total users. Productions, distribution, marketing, and financial applications share the resource.

PC Explosion

The exploding portion of the network is personal computing. "We don't even know how many PCs we have out there," Morgan says. "We try to gauge it by how many people are on electronic mail; it's one of the biggest users."

LindeNet emplys three main means of access:

* Dial-up. A central modem pool improves network management. Each user has an MCI calling card. All dial-up can migrate onto a central facility. From this pool, access is provided to any PAD or host.

* PAD. This provides access to all computers along an X.25 network. Small sites use PADs. "The idea is to move LindeNet down as close to the users as we can," says Richards. "For now, PADs are the way to go in most places."

* LANs and gateways. Since July 1989, many larger sites have LANs, accessed with gateway cards from Eicon Technology, Montral. "We needed to go from system to system," says Duncan Elliot, manager of network implementation and technical support. "That's why we got our first users on the gateways."

Greg Pin, member of the Credit Department and a LAN/gateway user for a year, likes the 56-kb/s gateway speed into the packet network. "It's opened up new avenues," he says. "It's more efficient. Before, we couldn't use the PC effectively; we sent all typing to the secretaries. With the interface with the IBM System/38, we spew out letters in minutes. Personalized letters to customers print out right in front of us. Huge innovation."

The old System/38 was limited by locally attached terminals. Now, two System/38 sessions and two mainframe sessions are open at the same time. Pin enjoys simultaneous on-line access to new applications for billing. "Before," he says, "you had to phone of E-mail the region you wanted to talk to. Within 30 seconds now we get back. We've increased productivity. Before, the equipment was full, strained to our capacity limit. Now we're like little kids with plenty of room to grow, with five concurrent sessions always available."

As well as serving all Industrial Gases sites, the Computer Services team manages network traffic for Union Carbide headquarters, also in Danbury. Fiber lines connect the two main Union Carbide buildings. Fiber multiplexers will be installed soon.

"There's a great advantage in using fiber LANs between buildings at full speed," says Morgan. "You can move file servers and gateways over here to the Data Center and let the operations staff manage the equipment."

For now, LANs are merely transport mechanisms at LindeNet, with no operations-management ability. Their major function is to hold down administrative costs. They're doing that rather well.

"In the Credit Department," says Elliot, "we spent $100,000 a year to support 11 people all on separate networks. That ongoing expense is eliminated. We have close to 34 folks accessing costing, accounts receivable, benefits--all with mainframe access on one network."

AS MANY AS 10 LAN gateways will probably be part of LindeNet by year's end. The ultimate aim is to support as many sessions as possible at high speeds ove LAN links.

"A few years ago," Morgan says, "it would take a few cabinets of boxes, a couple terminals on each desk, and technicians to take care of everything, to do what we're doing with gateways and LANs."

The computer Services team is working with a network integrator, to manage the multivendor environment. "We encourage an open platfor," says Barton. "After all, our system has to handle switches, PADs, and Eicon gateways."

The central network-management facility to be created will be managed by Lou Cortese, supervisor of Technical Control. Employed in fact by Union Carbide Corp., he runs the network on a day-to-day basis in coordination with Industrial Gases personnel.

"We run four different network-management packages at Tech Control as of now," Morgan says. "We're running out of room with all the computers and stuff out there. Not a lot of U.S. companies go over X.25 networks, and we have to use technology to leverage scarce resources."

Barton has his eye on distributed computing across platforms. He'd like to see presentations and graphics done with ease by more corporate employees, with mainframe database, access, and in real time. As market prices get more in line with his budget, Barton would also like to exploit FT1 and fast packet.

A consultancy and a vendor are working with Industrial Gases Computer Services to try to realize these aims within the limitations of Union Carbide's staunch rerolve to economize. But modernize they will. "We want greater flexibility," Barton says. "We're going after a robust industrial-strength network architecture."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Gitlin, Bob
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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