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County Telecommunications Upgrade Will Net Faster Access


In its simplest form, a computer problem at a Ventura County Government Center agency can lead to a wait for customer service. In a more severe case, it could lead to a lengthy shutdown of operations.

Mitch Evans would just as soon avoid either situation.

As manager of the telecommunications division of the county's Information Services Department, Evans is among those working to upgrade the data communications network that affects more than 90 county agencies.

The county has contracted with Irvine-based Network Catalyst to integrate an advanced data communications network, with installation and hardware provided by Nortel Networks. Evans said the project will cost between $800,000 and $1 million to complete.

Already in progress, the project is intended to offer faster, more reliable access of data and a greater ability to provide multimedia--video, voice and data--over the same network. The project is expected to be completed within six weeks, Evans said.

"What we have in place now is performing satisfactorily for most agencies, marginally for some and for others, it isn't very good," Evans said. "The backbone right now is an optical fiber cable that runs through every major phone closet [on the Government Center] campus, and to me that is very, very vulnerable. An accident can happen in one closet that could bring the whole thing down. It could be somewhat disastrous."

Agencies linked to the network include law enforcement, the Camarillo Airport, the Ventura County Medical Center, General Services, the county library system and the assessor's office.

"Every agency located on campus stands to benefit from the establishment of an upgrade to the network by allowing them a more reliable link to the data they use to serve the public at the counter," Evans said. "Some of the applications that departments and agencies use have become more intensive, and we need to provide more bandwidth."

Network Catalyst will install an ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) backbone network, which will provide 15 times the bandwidth of the current system.

Plans for a network upgrade began more than a year ago, but funding wasn't available to carry it out until this year.

In addition to the need for funding, Evans said, county officials have had to acknowledge the benefits of advanced technology.

"There have been some fairly major changes, some with the realization by folks who may have worked in government their entire adult life of how technology can help with the services they provide," Evans said.

The county's implementation of video arraignments--to arraign prisoners from jail rather than transporting them to court--is one example.

"Part of my job is to shake the crystal ball and look as far down the road as I can, to project what we are going to need and put in place a network service for them that will last five or 10 years," Evans said.

Although it took a year for Ventura County to get funding, it is still ahead of the game, said Kim Paul, area account manager for Network Catalyst. Paul is working on network integration with San Luis Obispo and Kern counties.

"Ventura County is on target and beyond," she said. "We're dealing with an ATM network, and that's a rather new technology. I would say they are more state of the art, the leading edge."

Rocci Della Maggiore, vice president and chief financial officer of Network Catalyst, agreed.

"The county of Ventura is a couple of steps ahead of the game, in comparison to corporate accounts and commercial accounts," Della Maggiore said. "They're building an infrastructure that's going to keep them going into the future."

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