The old McCormick East hall enters the fast lane. Chicago has long been the Land of the Giants. The biggest events in the country have shuttled in and out of McCormick Place for decades. But now you don't have to run a behemoth to find a comfortable spot down by the shores of Lake Michigan: Completely revamped and reopened in late 1997 as The Lakeside Center, the original McCormick Place East building in Chicago has been reconfigured to serve the small to mid-sized meeting and exhibition market.

There's still a lot of space. For example, there is a 45,000-square-foot ballroom, fully divisible into two 22,500-square-foot rooms, and a new north-to-south divider wall in the 300,000-square-foot Exhibit Hall D.

Internal wiring has been upgraded using a mix of fiber-optic cable and category 5 phone wire. There is a 100BaseT fiber-optic backbone in place, as well as a 10BaseT Ethernet local area network.

Chicago-based Red Sky Technology, Inc. is the Lakeside Center's Internet service provider, offering four levels of connectivity. According to Paula Gral-ler, senior resource manager at Lake-side, the ability to offer bandwidth on demand means organizers can choose anything from dial-up service (with a minimum modem speed of 28.8 Kbps), to dedicated T1 service (1.544 Mbps).

"We constantly monitor the bandwidth through packet shaping technology [a kind of bandwidth management], so clients never need to worry about disruptive spikes in usage during their event," says Graller. "And all of our service levels are charged at flat rates." Lakeside's Internet team is on-site and able to assist clients during all event phases from move-in to move-out.

From Fast to Fastest The Lakeside Center offers dial-up service, workstation service, and workgroup service, in ascending order of speed and complexity, plus dedicated T1 service for conference organizers who have a whole lotta data goin' on. Clients who want to network computers in a booth or room to a single line are welcome to do so, but must supply a hub, and may have to pay additional labor charges for setup. And leasing a TCP/IP address is still a required part of the package, as explained below.

* Dial-up service includes installation of a modem line for Internet access to a booth or meeting room, able to access the Internet at speeds of up to 28.8 Kbps; a TCP/IP address to be used during the event; and the use of Red Sky Technology's domain name system servers during the event (DNS servers permit use of host names, such as www.meetingsnet.com, instead of TCP/IP addresses). Clients must provide a compatible modem, all necessary computer equipment, software, and cables to connect the modem to the computer, and separately order electrical service. The modem line is terminated using a standard voice-grade jack.

* Workstation service includes installation of a 10BaseT network cable to your booth/room, an average of 64 Kbps access to the Internet via a shared T1, use of a secure segmented virtual LAN, a TCP/IP address to be used during the event, and the use of DNS servers.

* Workgroup Service includes everything workstation service includes, but with faster 384 to 768 Kbps access--fast enough to run video--along with six TCP/IP addresses instead of just one.

* Dedicated Service is available for bandwidth hogs. Clients get a whole T1 access line to themselves, and not six but 24 TCP/IP addresses.

Unbundled Service The levels of service available notwithstanding, McCormick representatives stress the importance of ordering electric service to match data transmission needs. Services are unbundled, so ordering Internet access does not guarantee a live electrical outlet in the meeting room 24 hours a day unless you order it.

Lakeside Center and Red Sky Tech-nology typically get exhibit floor installations up and running in the order in which they arrive at the loading dock. If something is going to arrive late but requires early setup, call--and expect an additional service charge.