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In the past few months we've added several hundred thousand dollars' worth of servers, workstations, switches, routers and wireless gear to spruce up our labs -- two on campus at Syracuse University, one in Green Bay, Wis., one in Madison, Wisc., and another in Chicago. And we're expanding our Green Bay space to include a spanking-new lab devoted to business applications and Web services software, from mainline essentials like e-mail and databases to HR applications, CRM (customer-relationship management) and ERP (enterprise-resource planning) packages, with Microsoft's .Net and Sun's ONE thrown in for good measure.

We're basing this new lab infrastructure on the requirements of NWC Inc., a fictional widget-manufacturing company we've created specially for this endeavor. We'll pump simulated transactions through these systems 'round the clock -- just as you do on your business networks -- and we'll measure how well they work and how well they play with the other applications.

Our resident Packers fans, technology editors Lori MacVittie and Steve Schuchart, are installing and configuring the new equipment as fast as it arrives. I'm a die-hard Steelers fan, so we don't see eye to eye on everything, but we get by somehow. Maybe we'll see each other at the Super Bowl in January. We're also dealing with "minor details" like heating and cooling systems, uninterruptible power supplies, storage, security, rack location, cabling, Internet connections and more. We'll give you all the gory details about the setup and implementation of this new business-applications lab in our December 1 issue, complete with photos and network diagrams so you can see it with your own eyes. Then we'll get to work testing more business applications than ever. Exciting stuff.

Of course, getting funding for this project was no small feat. We had to wrangle our way through all the typical corporate red tape, providing explanations and justifications right and left before the powers that be gave us their blessing and forked over the big bucks. OK, so the job does have a downside -- at least the bean counters came through.

We're also drawing up plans to redesign our Syracuse labs because we've been invited to move them into a new state-of-the-art facility on campus. I'm using AutoCAD software to lay out the space, and American Power Conversion is helping me spec out rack placement, power conditioning and distribution needs, and will provide a robust N+1 UPS Power Array for five-nine availability. I'm also getting plenty of creative suggestions from the technology editors who work here ("the ping-pong table will fit perfectly here" -- stuff like that). It's an incredible opportunity to build a lab from the ground up, and ultimately you'll reap the benefits -- you'll get to use our test results and evaluations to narrow down your own product choices.

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