Sooner or later every major convention center has to deal with a big Microsoft event. For the Northern Kentucky Convention Center (NKCC) it was sooner: Within four months of its November opening, the Covington, Ky., center got the Microsoft treatment with a 2,500-attendee Windows 2000 roll-out event. Require-ments included a satellite downlink for video and a complete--and secure--network for product demonstrations. At NKCC, this was no problem. As far as downlinking is concerned, 75 OHM cabling allows convenient connection to the ballroom or exhibit floor. It's a simple matter to drive a satellite truck alongside the ballroom and make video connections. From there, cable trays run video-carrying cable throughout the building. Ground-level dishes can be used without difficulty.

Microsoft's networking needs gave NKCC a chance to show off its networking capabilities. The facility is wired for 100BaseT fast Ethernet service throughout most of its 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall and 23,000-square-foot ballroom, using fiber-optic cable and Category 5 phone lines. With data lines (and phone lines) located at every wall plug unit in the building, accessing the network is easy. The best part, according to Tim Anderson, chief engineer for MAC Productions, NKCC's in-house technology vendor, is the flexibility of its new switching technology.

"The system is segregated using Hewlett-Packard layer 3 switches," he says. "This means the 100BaseT network can support Internet connections, data networks, and video all on the same physical local area network. Switching takes place at the network level rather than the physical level."

This arrangement is called a Virtual LAN (VLAN), and it means that devices can communicate as though they are all attached to the same wire, when in fact they're on different LAN segments. Even if multiple events are in-house, exhibitors from different shows can plug in and "see" only those devices associated with their show. In fact, the center will support as many as 30 separate, secure networks at one time.

The VLAN is so flexible that even individual exhibitors with locations in different parts of the building will "see" only devices on their assigned network.

Connections from the NKCC to the Internet are handled by Voyager.net, a local ISP. Event managers requiring connections at speeds greater than 64K must use an outside vendor, although this may change; the facility's IS managers are investigating a solution that will give exhibitors plug-and-play capabilities at higher connection speeds.

Telecommunications service from the building is handled on a dedicated 128K ISDN line, which splits capacity between exhibitors and the NKCC staff. With advance notice, additional ISDN or ADSL lines can be activated.

If the NKCC seems eager to demonstrate its connectivity capabilities, that's because it believes its future depends on the tech event client. Charles Wheeler, executive director of the NKCC, says his facility "... need(s) to offer state-of- the-art facilities for our niche markets, especially those groups whose focus is technologically driven."