September 01, 2004, 9:28 AM — The IT planners began working 18 months ago, evaluating the buildings that would contain 4,800 delegates and twice as many journalists at this week's Republican National Convention in New York. From the start, they agreed on one major infrastructure issue: No wireless.
"If people have trouble with wireless, what's the first thing they say?" asks David Shatzkes, whose company is managing the convention's technology operations. "They say, 'There's something wrong with the network.' Those are the words we absolutely do not want to hear."
Shatzkes is vice president of government services for Computer Horizons Corp., a Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, IT services company that's worked with a variety of New York City agencies for nearly a decade. After the Sept. 11 attacks -- and again, two months later, when American Airlines flight 587 crashed in Queens -- Computer Horizons was one of the contractors city officials summoned for emergency assistance. The company's history of handling New York City's technology needs made it a likely candidate for convention work, and the convention's host committee called Computer Horizons in soon after the Republican National Committee selected New York.
Shatzkes said Computer Horizon's primary goal in building the convention infrastructure was stability. It isn't interested in trying out cutting-edge technologies; simplicity was a priority. The VOIP (voice over IP) network is as next-generation as the IT infrastructure gets, and there, the decision to combine voice and data networks was an easy one, Shatzkes said: "Why build two networks when you can build one?"
Simplicity is the reason organizers decided to avoid wireless networking. Security wasn't a major concern, according to Shatzkes, who said the available technology for securing wireless networks is as good as that for securing traditional ones. But all of the vendors involved in the decision, he said, agreed that the available wireless networking options weren't robust enough to meet reliability goals -- especially given the convention's location, on Manhattan's skyscraper-stuffed western edge, a notorious connectivity vortex for wireless devices.
Like all the major IT vendors involved in the convention, Computer Horizons is donating a large portion of its services, though Shatzkes said there's also some paid contract work involved. While Computer Horizons is coordinating the convention's IT, key components come from other vendors.
Verizon Communications Inc. ran thousands of miles of cable to build a VOIP network in Madison Square Garden and the nearby Farley Post Office Building, which houses the convention's press contingent. Cisco Systems Inc. supplied the networking equipment, IBM Corp. donated PCs and servers, and Microsoft Corp. provided desktop and systems software.