Service availability is becoming key metric in evaluating COTS components for network-centric warfare

Guest viewpoint -- Military and aerospace developers continue to adopt COTS as they evolve to next-generation network infrastructures. While key requirements, including tolerance of shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, and environmental hazards will remain integral components to any military and aerospace request for proposal (RFP), another element that is becoming increasingly critical to network-centric operations is service availability.

Apr 21st, 2010

By Asif Naseem

Military and aerospace developers continue rapidly to adopt commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions as they evolve to next-generation network infrastructures. While key requirements, including tolerance of shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, and environmental hazards will remain integral components to any military and aerospace request for proposal (RFP), another element that is becoming increasingly critical to network-centric operations is service availability.

In its essence, service availability implies a service is always available -- regardless of hardware, software or user fault -- and it is often taken for granted until an outage occurs. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) know that uninterrupted service is crucial to the successful deployment of military and aerospace applications, and equally as important to the costs of fixing a down network after deployment.

In short, when service goes down, costs and risks go up. Perhaps the most dramatic examples of the costs and risks of downtime are the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) National Aerospace Data Interchange Network (NADIN) system outages in air traffic control over the last two years. The system tracks more than 1.5 million flight schedules each day for all commercial jetliner domestic departures and arrivals. On November 19 of last year, a software-configuration problem with a network router caused an outage of the 24-year-old system, causing flight delays of several hours for airline passengers across the country.

Another NADIN incident in August 2008 resulted in downtime and delays of two hours or more at more than 100 airports. In 2007, meanwhile, a network outage grounded flights across the country for nearly six hours. Subsequently, NADIN experienced three separate major service outages that caused two to six hour flight delays throughout the United States. The most surprising -- and disturbing -- aspect of these incidents is that the FAA was not able to trace the cause of the problem.

The FAA's serious problems with NADIN highlight just how crucial service availability has become in the daily operations for systems of every type. Further, the unpredictable and unclear causes of the problems reveal the need for a transparent and reliable approach to service availability that eliminates the outages.

By integrating technology solutions that enable five nines (99.999 percent, or five minutes and 15 seconds of downtime per year) service availability into military and aerospace applications, downtime can be combated, seamless connectivity can be ensured, and costs and risks can be minimized. To that end, an ecosystem of COTS suppliers is emerging, providing industry-standard building blocks and systems that can be employed in military and aerospace applications to ensure high service availability. For example, at the beginning of 2010, GoAhead Software announced partnering with Global Technical Systems (GTS) and Northrop Grumman (NGC) to support the Navy's Common Processing System program. The system's foundation is based on service availability specifications and integrates GoAhead's solution, SAFfire, ensuring continuous service of warfighter systems without loss of service or data.

Just like the Navy did several years before, the FAA is now working to better understand the service availability problems within their network. Their Data Communications program initiative focuses on delivering a new generation of capabilities and eliminating outages. When completed, it will enable air-traffic controllers and pilots to communicate with greater capacity and reliability. This system is intended to remove as much human error as possible by replacing labor-intensive voice communication.

Early indications from the FAA are that open architecture principles will be embraced in the new system. For the FAA, this means that the new system will likely include major COTS platforms and follow the guidelines and specifications from organizations such as the SA Forum.

Network-centric operations continue to evolve, and with this migration to next-generation networks comes a myriad of outages occurring across diverse applications. It is expected that five 9's service availability -- and higher -- integration into military and aerospace COTS solutions will continue to grow. The resulting enhancement of system transparency and reliability will eliminate the dramatic outages and confusion about their causes.

Asif Naseem is president of the Service Availability Forum in Beaverton, Ore. The SA Forum consists of component and board manufacturers to service providers and operators. Contact the SA Forum online at www.saforum.org.

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