FAA Infrastructure: Progress with a New Flight System Plan

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-10-14 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Transitioning off of legacy systems is never easy, but it’s especially challenging if you are an agency of the U.S. government such as the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Real progress on a next-generation system is being made, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it if you read some news headlines about FAA system failures this year. Beyond being a nuisance to airlines and travelers, experts and former employees of the FAA are calling flight-plan system failures a warning sign for peril.

FAA Infrastructure: Progress with a New Flight System Plan
On Sept. 23, the FAA exercised the second option year on its 2006 SAVES (Strategic Sourcing for the Acquisition of Various Equipment and Supplies) contract, which was approved by Congress, to fund the systems upgrade. The IDIQ (indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity) contract will total $63 million after all options are exercised. 

To date, the FAA has spent about $23 million of that amount; GTSI is budgeted to spend about $13 million more this year.

The contract was awarded under the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative and is based on Office of Management and Budget mandates calling for agencies to consolidate their technology infrastructures.  So far, the SAVES program has helped the FAA standardize on technology, source goods and services more efficiently, and effectively monitor IT spending, an FAA spokesperson said.

Sun Microsystem's open-source OpenSolaris/ZFS/SunFire server/Thumper storage infrastructure—which features built-in, state-of-the-art virtualization capability—was a key building block on which the FAA IT evaluation group settled. Some of the new software is already being used in the air traffic system; ZFS (Sun's open-source Zettabyte File System) is being used in the FAA's air traffic data center.

"The FAA uses a large quantity of Sun Solaris servers in a variety of configurations to support some of our noncritical business applications," Andy Isaksen, manager of the Communications Infrastructure Engineering Team for NADIN and architect of the original mainframe system, said. "ZFS is being used on at least one service within the Air Traffic Organization Enterprise Data Center."

Isaksen said, "NADIN, which is responsible for flight plan distribution ... is nearing completion of our user migration waterfall. We began our migration to the new NADIN from our legacy system in March 2008 and the transition is scheduled to complete in early 2009. We are approximately 75 percent complete."

Whatever infrastructure NADIN uses, it is responsible for all flight plan distribution for hundreds of airports, and it provides the gateway between the aviation community and FAA, Isaksen said.

Commercial aircraft of any type cannot take off with having filed a valid flight plan, one that includes destination, estimated flight speed, description of cargo, estimated altitude, weather conditions and other data points.

The FAA augmented its old Phillips DS714 mainframes in 2005 at the FAA data centers in Atlanta, Ga., and Salt Lake City with Stratus FTserver 6400s, which run on Intel Xeon processors. However, the NADIN system, which is compliant with National Institute of Standards and Technology 800-53 security controls and operates on a private network, will keep evolving to the Sun-Cisco implementation.

The custom-built NADIN application is not hardware- and operating system-dependent and can be compiled to run on many server platforms, Isaksen said. This includes Solaris, so the changeover was not a major issue.



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