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Computer Horizons Corp., which led the IT efforts for this month’s Republican National Convention in New York, is no stranger to setting up temporary networks under pressure.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Mountain Lakes, N.J., company helped New York City’s Office of Emergency Management get an ad hoc network up and running in less than a day. The OEM had lost its headquarters in the terrorist attacks and was forced to set up new offices on two cruise ship terminals on Manhattan’s West Side.

Compared with that effort, the GOP convention, which drew some 50,000 attendees to Madison Square Garden, was a piece of cake, said David Shatzkes, vice president for government services at Computer Horizons, yet the event still yielded lessons in creating networks on the fly that need constant uptime.

“Compared to 9/11, this is very easy. We started planning for the convention in March of 2003, so we had 18 months to prepare, and we could afford to make mistakes,” said Shatzkes. “A lot of the same people that are here were at 9/11, like Cisco [Systems Inc.], IBM and Microsoft [Corp.].”

For the GOP convention, Computer Horizons handled the design of the IT infrastructure and provided overall support. Cisco supplied the networking gear; IBM provided hardware such as PCs, notebooks and servers; and Microsoft provided the software. Among the other IT vendors involved were Verizon Communications Inc., which supplied some 40,000 miles of cable for the VOIP (voice-over-IP) network between Madison Square Garden and the Farley Post Office building next door, and Xerox Corp., which supplied the printers, copiers and multifunction machines for the millions of documents generated.

“With 9/11, not only did we have to worry about our client, but we had to worry about the public. Here in the Garden, it is a little different. Our client is the RNC, and if you look around in the Garden, you do not see terminals all around. They’re in the back for the support staff that supports the delegates and everything within the RNC. That’s where you’ll see the IBM desktop computers and the Cisco VOIP phones to access data behind the scenes,” Shatzkes said.

From Shatzkes’ perspective, the convention was a success—as in no news is good news. “As of now, we don’t have any problems—no one has called us, and we’ve been up 100 percent,” he said on the last day of the convention. “Our guys are just sitting and waiting—waiting in the firehouse for someone to ring the bell.”

The IT team’s theme for the convention was simplicity, said Shatzkes. “Our strategy was ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid,’ and that’s what we did,” he said.

Which is exactly why the company did not opt to install a Wi-Fi network. “We knew that New York City has lots of interference, and we knew that if we used handhelds or any type of wireless device in this convention and one person lost any kind of data or couldn’t retrieve data during a minute or two—that’s a failure. It was not because the technology had a problem; it was a problem with the environment.”

Computer Horizons next hopes to draw on its experience setting up networks in diverse environments to help companies plan for disaster recovery. “Since 9/11, there is more focus on making sure you have a disaster recovery site,” said Shatzkes. “We want to make sure businesses always have their data backed up and can continue to work even if there is an event or a disaster, like the recent hurricanes in Florida.”

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