Not the New IT Systems Fault

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-11-20 Print this article Print

The FAA recently spent millions of dollars updating its antiquated Philips mainframe system with a new one that uses Stratus Technologies high-performance servers and other elements from Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems and other first-tier IT suppliers. The old system, which went online in 1988 and served the FAA well for two decades, was approaching its end of life and had suffered a series of breakdowns in the last few years. However, the new IT system was not the issue Nov. 19.

The FAA utilizes the NADIN (National Airspace Data Interchange Network) communications link for the flight-plan system. The two NADIN sites in Salt Lake City and Hampton, Ga.-along with including the 21 other FAA IT stations-no longer use a multipath communications backbone composed of many different redundant links.

As mandated by the Bush administration in 2001, all the communications links that previously were government-owned and maintained by FAA employees were contracted to Harris, under the $2.4 billion FTI contract.

Rep. Jerry Costello issued the following statement Nov. 19 regarding the outage:

"While today's incident could have been much worse, anytime you have a system-wide outage it needs to be thoroughly reviewed and it brings up several questions that the FAA needs to address. Why did it take four hours to locate a seemingly small technical problem, and why did it have a system-wide effect? Is the FAA's oversight of its contract with the Harris Corporation sufficient? The relationship between the FAA and its vendors is a critical one, given that the transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System will require more such partnerships. Our staff is discussing these questions with the FAA and we will continue to explore these issues. In addition, Chairman Oberstar and I have asked the Department of Transportation Inspector General to conduct a 60-day study of the outage and FAA's corrective action plan."

Harris spokesperson Marc Raimondi told eWEEK that people should keep in mind that weather conditions cause most flight delays, and that the FTI system used by the FAA has a very good performance record. "Five nines-maybe even nine nines of efficiency," Raimondi said.

Raimondi issued the following statement from Harris: "We're working with the FAA to evaluate the interruption in order to prevent similar outages in the future. FTI has proven to be one of the most reliable and secure communications networks operating within the civilian government. Safety and security are the highest priorities."

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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