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26/04/2005 | Canada's Nortel lands major Pentagon telecom project

Martin Edwin Andersen

The ink was barely dry on a Nortel Networks Corp. announcement that it had been chosen by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to provide upgraded, high-capacity Internet-based voice switches when the Defense Department’s press shop did a little voice-over switch of its own. “We wanted to take the time to clarify the announcement made by Nortel earlier this week,” a DISA spokesperson said in a March 31 written statement to GSN. “[DISA] did not award a contract to Nortel.”

 

The announcement referred to DISA's approval of the use of the Air Force's existing Worldwide Integrated Digital Telecommunications (WIDTS) contract to purchase the upgrade equipment and installation support for the Defense Switched Network project, the spokesperson said.  Funds were sent to the Air Force’s Air Logistics Center, “which then developed a delivery order for General Dynamics (GD), the WIDTS prime contractor. [General Dynamics] then negotiated with Nortel and other subcontractors to support DISA's upgrade requirements.”
 
The e-mailed statement, titled “Nortel Announcement Clarification,” came after a GSN request for information about the new initiative, previously reported by several leading trade publications as a new “contract” for Nortel Federal Solutions, a division of the Canadian company, based in Brampton, Ontario. According to Nortel Network’s Web site, the company serves “both service provider and enterprise customers in more than 150 countries.”
 
Despite the public relations static, the unusual DISA statement left unchallenged a key Nortel message -- that the Defense Department is increasingly embracing VoIP as a mainstream alternative to traditional telephony, with Nortel playing a significant role in custom-designing DoD’s next-generation telephonic architecture.
 
“The move is driven by the mission demands of Net-Centricity and the reality that in the future, circuit switch technology will no longer be sustainable,” noted the DISA press spokesperson, who asked not to be identified by name. “However, the move to voice over IP will be taken cautiously in order to ensure quality of service and assured secure services end-to-end that our warfighters demand.”
 
Under the terms of the arrangement, which company officials say will take 12-15 months to complete, Nortel will oversee the migration of voice traffic at DISA from a network managed by MCI to a VoIP network owned and controlled by the Defense Department, providing services (including site service), equipment and implementation. Already-robust SL 100 switches at six Air Force bases nationwide that now offer base-level telephony will undergo upgrades to handle IP traffic and trunking, the management of PBX systems, and Voice Over IP traffic. Each new switch will be able to handle more than 100,000 voice lines and the new software will include VoIP and blade-based processor upgrades.
 
Because the switches will enable DISA to use the Defense Department’s Global Information Grid-Bandwidth Expansion network (GIG-BE), the agency will be able to jettison costly leased line services, a move that, according to DISA, will save “tens of millions of dollars.”
 
“By leveraging the GIG-BE, the 12 currently leased switches can be replaced by six existing government (U.S. Air Force) base switches, which are being upgraded to accomplish DSN tandem functions as well as their base level functions,” the DISA spokesperson added. “This is the same methodology used for the overseas DSN. The O&M costs for these six facilities will be less than what is currently paid to sustain 12 switches.”
 
Security will be enhanced because the new service will use switches already resident on Air Force bases when the cut-over occurs, rather than relying on the infrastructure offered by managed services not under the physical control of the Defense Department, said Chuck Saffell, president, Federal Solutions, Nortel. The new system will increase both the “resiliency” and “survivability,” he added, because the Defense Department will have its own private network rather than relying on outside service providers.
 
Because the equipment attached to the new network has been tested by the Defense Department, Saffell said, “the chances of inserting a virus, or creating some kind of denial-of-service attack, etc., will be significantly reduced because the equipment has been pre-qualified and pre-tested.”  The software stream used in the project, he said, is exclusive to the department, with no commercial access to it.
   
The DISA deal appears to put Nortel at the crest of the newest wave of telephony. Industry experts say that, because issues about VoIP’s quality and reliability have been resolved, its low cost and greater functionality, such as collaborative conferencing and unified communications, make it attractive when compared to traditional telephony.
 
“VoIP allows you to use the same network that you send data over to provide your voice over, so you can reduced operation-expense costs, etc, and reduce the number of networks,” Saffell said. Nortel’s convergence model, he added, reduces the number of networks by “intertwining your data requirements, your voice requirements and even your video requirements securely.”
 
In the case of the Defense Switched Network, there have also been concerns that its reliance on private companies such as MCI is both costly and limits its ability to respond during crises.
 
“We came up with a next-generation VoIP architecture and we were able to migrate it from the existing equipment that (DISA) had,” Saffell noted in a telephone interview. “The re-use capability of existing Department of Defense assets creates a low-risk way to go because it’s known equipment that they are very familiar with, and from a cost-savings viewpoint, there is not a big capital expenditure here for the department.”
 
Impetus for the change, Saffell noted, came after the issuance of Presidential Decision Directive – 63, which promoted federal-private sector efforts to protect critical infrastructure and which led DISA to design a plan to increase its own voice network security. A DISA study completed late last summer recommended shifting a significant amount of Defense Department communications, including telephone calls, to an IP-based converged network. The technology is already being used by Defense Department commands, including the Central Command, which has responsibility for military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
Even earlier last year, DISA’s Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) test-bed at Fort Huachuca, AZ, certified Nortel’s Voice Over IP switches and routing gateways. The certification is designed to ensure that products acquired are secure, have optimal operability in a multi-vendor environment, meet exacting performance-under-duress standards, and address other specific national security issues such as signaling control, information assurance and preemption. 
 
Nortel officials say that there are several other benefits to the JITC-approved upgrade of the Defense Switched Network. For example, the upgraded switches offer VoIP traffic with military-specific capabilities, such as multilevel precedence and preemption to make sure that priority calls go through in crisis situations. 
 
Not only will the upgrade put the department’s managed voice network under Defense Department control, and improve control and responsiveness in times of crisis, they say. It will also support the use of new applications that have become available due to network convergence; allow DISA to determine its own timetable to move from circuit to packet applications, and reduce operational costs as well, in part by leveraging existing communications equipment and making more efficient use of Air Force-owned resources. 

Government Security News (Estados Unidos)

 



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