High-End Modem Lets ASU's Comm. Network Include DEC Equipment

By Dryer, Kymberly G. | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), May 1988 | Go to article overview

High-End Modem Lets ASU's Comm. Network Include DEC Equipment


Dryer, Kymberly G., T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


High-End Modem Lets ASU's Comm. Network Include DEC Equipment

Arizona State University, located in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, is working diligently to become one of the country's leading research institutions. One important element of that goal already achieved is the development of a sophisticated communications system that serves as an infrastructure supporting a richly diverse computing environment.

Arizona State's 40,000 students and the size of its central campus make it among the largest state universities of its type in the U.S. Computers have always played an important role in academics and administration at ASU, and the computing power available there today is literally 100 times what it was in the early '70s. The current communications network originated several years ago with a major effort called Project ACSS (Advanced Communications Support System).

At that time, prompted by spiraling communications costs and deregulation in the telephone industry, the university set about to build a communications system that would economically carry telephone, video and data traffic. Darel Eschbach, executive director of ASU's telecommunications services department, also saw an opportunity to create a telecommunications platform for future computing and communications needs.

They eventually decided upon a broadband (450-MHz) communications backbone linking the university's library, computers from several different vendors in various departments around the campus, and such special facilities as engineering workstations. The network carries analog video, used for surveillance and (soon) instruction, as well as voice and data.

Approximately 1,400 terminals for administrative work are attached locally to their respective hosts. There are more than 1,000 asynchronous connections on the broadband backbone, including 140 for dial-in academic services. On average, 12,000 research accounts are active on ASU's mainframes.

Reconcilable Differences

Many different networks--among them Ethernet, Token Bus (MAP) and Sytek LocalNet 20--are used on the broadband cable system. This had, in fact, caused some concern in the planning stages, because many of these networks utilize digital protocols, while broadband systems--like the backbone--are analog. Each digital-based network, therefore, required a converter. Of particular concern were ASU's DEC computers, which use the digital Ethernet protocol.

Eschbach considered it essential that the communications network encompass the DEC equipment and sought a solution to the apparent incompatibility. "That hardware is important to us," he says, "and obviously Ethernet is the protocol of choice if you're using DEC hardware, as well as an emerging potential for hardware of other vendors. There's a fair amount of emphasis here on enriching the computing environment by not sticking rigidly to a single computing architecture."

He and his staff looked for a radio-frequency modem with collision-detection electronics that was capable of converting the Ethernet-based equipment's digital signals into analog signals that could be transmitted on the broadband backbone in the channels available. …

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