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7/29/2004
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Kerry's Acceptance Caps Busy Week For Democrats' IT Staff

The Democratic National Convention used a combination of wired and wireless systems and networks to keep delegates, staff, and media connected and functioning.

Sen. John Kerry's Thursday night speech formally accepting the Democratic Party's presidential nominee will cap off a convention organized and run as a small business--with many of the same IT trappings.

Throughout the week, wired and wireless systems and networks have run the show at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, accommodating the needs of a variety of convention participants, from the speechwriters laboring away in the party's backstage war room to the 15,000 credentialed journalists clacking out stories from the FleetCenter's media areas.

Networked PCs and printers mean speechwriters and committee members can communicate quicker than in the past. "More people are able to do more," says Chris Gruin, the Democratic National Convention Committee's technology director. "People in the corporate world take the availability of these resources for granted, but not so in the event world."

In any of the temporary offices set up for convention committee workers, up to 30 people work to accomplish a variety of different tasks, just as they would in any office environment. In all, the convention's IT operation supports more than 1,000 Microsoft Active Directory users, 100 PCs, and 30 servers across six locations in Boston. In this sense, the convention itself was like a startup company with a $70 million operating budget.

Gruin knew when he took the assignment last August that the party had big expectations for this convention. His first order of business was to create a fully functional IT operation to support the convention committee's temporary Boston office. This meant building out a WAN and wiring workers so that they'd have access to PCs and E-mail. As the convention drew near, activity on the committee's network picked up significantly, and the number of people relying on the IT infrastructure grew to about 1,000.

Although wireless access was available at the 2000 Democratic convention in Los Angeles, the explosion of wireless use over the past four years was reflected at this week's convention. "We knew we would never be able to wash the entire bowl [of the FleetCenter's convention floor] with wireless, so we took a measured approach," Gruin says. The convention committee installed hot spots supporting 802.11a, b, or g standards in areas where committee workers, delegates, and the press were most likely to need wireless-network access. But with so many wireless devices competing for access, Gruin recommended that users not rely on wireless connectivity for any critical workloads.

Data and network security proved to be another challenge. Gruin's strategy was to create two wireless networks--one that provided most users with access to public networks and another that offered properly credentialed users access to the committee's secure network. The committee used Active Directory security features, high levels of data encryption, and other security technology and procedures to try to ensure that its network remained secure throughout the convention. "If you just bring in your laptop from outside, you're not going to get on our wireless network," he says.

Large political events are nothing new to Gruin. He was part of the IT team that provided Internet access for those attending Bill Clinton's 1997 presidential inauguration. He also worked NATO's 50th anniversary event in 1999 and the 2000 Democratic convention. "With each event," he says, "people come to rely more on technology."

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