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Military

Team re-engineers network environment

by Karen Petitt
Air Force Communications Agency


10/4/2007 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFPN) -- What was a maze of 35 antiquated routers, switches and load balancers used to direct millions of e-mails each day is now a streamlined set of seven all-in-one nodes that saves time, money and resources.

"It's like trading in your Chevy truck for a BMW," said Capt. Drew Masur, a network and boundary protection flight commander with the 561st Network Operations Squadron's Det. 3. "And that's important because the future of our network capabilities depends on having a beamer engine to keep the Air Force screaming forward as we develop our cyber warfare framework."

That beamer engine trade-in didn't just magically appear though. It came about after four years of intense research and technology upgrades that made the changes possible. 

Tech. Sgt. Scott Moore, an infrastructure network engineer, studied the problem in-depth by dividing the network's architecture's problems into four main sections where he eventually found a way to collapse all 35 entities into fewer elements. These fewer elements not only reduce maintenance and upkeep costs, but the new devices he replaced them with will expand the network's capabilities as the Det. 3 team continues to meet the Air Force's demand for a robust communications environment.

A $1.5 million funding grant from U.S. Transportation Command officials who collaborated as a joint partner in this effort, made it possible for Sergeant Moore's team to move forward with his recommendation and subsequent implementation. USTRANSCOM will benefit as the Det. 3 teams brings the command's stand-alone servers under this new consolidated umbrella. 

This set up is not just for the Air Force, explained Sergeant Moore, "it's for all of us. We are working toward a purple (joint) environment so this just makes sense." 

The demand for this upgrade came about as the Air Force drastically cut the number of communications professionals, many who are needed to maintain these older systems.

"You can imagine the management nightmare it has been for our teams to work with multiple vendors who owned the various devices, and then ensuring our technicians had the right training for the technologies, and be able to monitor the systems and upgrade the equipment during tech refresh season," said Sergeant Moore. "In today's environment, we just can't devote that many people or resources to a system that has become outdated, so this new configuration saves us time and money."

Swapping over an entire network enterprise system took skill in the planning and execution. It required the team to build half the environment at a time so that users had uninterrupted service.

"That's critical when you see that we support the Air Mobility Command's 24-7 flying operations through the Tactical Airlift Control Center," Captain Masur said. "Many other high-level communications and daily workflow could not be hampered, and that itself is a challenging obstacle to overcome. But, we did it thanks to the dedicated help of commercial partners who assisted our team with the technology and our team of engineers who performed flawlessly."

This new configuration is now the standard for the Air Force as it moves its decentralized network environment from 118 bases to 16 area processing centers that will provide data integrity, control and defense mechanisms for its users.

"This has also given us another level of security for our systems," Sergeant Moore said. "The old system had numerous single points of failure, which also added to the complexity of managing or upgrading the system. Now we have built-in redundancy, which prevents system failures."

This team is the first to build a network like this, so senior leaders are looking to them to lead the way for the rest of the Air Force and eventually the joint community.

"Our team took old equipment, at its peak with no more ability to grow, and designed a dramatic behind-the-scenes success story," said Maj. Paul Griffin, the Det. 3 commander.  "We're supporting a community of 65,000 people and will soon add more than 250,000 people with the Air Force's E-mail for Life initiative, which is also part of the network consolidation effort. What our team accomplished will be the foundation for the future of network attack and defense objectives as we move toward a fully integrated cyberspace environment." 



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