Agencies Nurture ATM

Back in 1994, when ATM was rarely used, seven federal agencies joined together in a project called ATDNet (for Advanced Technology Demonstration Network). They contracted with Bell Atlantic Federal Systems to build a Washington-area test bed for high-speed ATM networking.

Today ATDNet carries ordinary business traffic, such as payroll data, while still providing a platform for networking research and development. More than three dozen agencies have linked to the network, which often carries 200 billion bits of information a day. "A lot of customers found out about ATDNet and wanted to become part of it," says Richard Bibb, vice president for federal operations at Fore Systems Inc., a Pennsylvania firm that supplied ATDNet switches.

The backbone network runs over a 2.5 billion-bit-per-second (bps) synchronous optical network (Sonet) pathway linking Washington with its Maryland and Virginia suburbs in a metropolitan area network (MAN). Users connect at speeds ranging from a T1 equivalent-1.5 million bps-to 155 million bps. Direct 622-million-bps links are available.

"ATDNet has had a major impact across the board," boasts Bob Reale of the Defense Information Systems Agency, which teamed with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop the network. "Government is leading industry."

As a result of ATDNet, ATM has been tested on Bosian battlefields. The network extends to the desktops of National Security Agency intelligence specialists and powers the Defense Department's World Wide Web site. It soon will carry DoD telephone traffic and two-way battlefield communications. Little of this would have happened yet if DoD had waited for ATM to become commercially viable at the normal pace, Bibb says.

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