After Attacks, Verizon Rushes App Turnaround

.Net facilitates rapid deployment of software needed for telecom recovery.

Verizon Communications Inc., the regional phone company serving much of the Northeastern United States, suffered a huge hit to its operations as a result of the terrorist attacks that felled the World Trade Center towers last month.

In the wake of the attacks, a data tracking and analysis tool from Infragistics Inc. was rushed through beta testing, re-engineered and put into production in less than a week to enable Verizon to manage the work at ground zero to put its network back together.

A key to getting the job done quickly, Verizon IT managers said, was their use of Microsoft Corp.s .Net development tools, which are still in beta versions themselves.

"I consider it lucky that we were in the middle of doing this," said John Fallon, manager of power and infrastructure at Verizon. "I dont know what the ramp-up would have been—probably a couple of weeks, which would have been much too late. Even our six-day turnaround—that probably wasnt quick enough."

Verizons building at 140 West St. in Lower Manhattan serves some 300,000 voice lines, 3.5 million data circuits and circuits connected to other telecommunications companies. The structure, which is directly across the street from the leveled 7 WTC, was severely damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks.

At the time, Verizons development team, along with consultants from Ajilon LLC, of Towson, Md., was beta testing Infragistics Ultra Web Navigator tool running on Windows 2000 Advanced Server. The software was supposed to enable Verizon to track new customer orders and their dependent circuits.

Halfway through the beta and a migration to Microsofts .Net platform, the terrorists struck the WTC, damaged Verizons West Street offices and shut down countless circuits. In short order, it became apparent that the manual process of aggregating and inputting circuit information was overwhelming Verizons staff. Fallon helped the development team make a quick decision to re-engineer Ultra Web Navigator on Windows ASP .Net, a development platform for building Web applications.

The turnaround application, code-named Viper, incorporated new functionalities that allowed Verizon to track all of the downed circuits in the New York region, as well as assess the impact of fixing specific circuits.

Ajilon worked with Verizon to turn the original software program around in six days—a process that normally would have taken six months, according to Fallon.

Viper comprises five multithreaded Visual Basic .Net applications that are used for various mainframe terminal emulation processes. They run on a five-server Web farm under ASP .Net with a clustered session state server and a clustered Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database. Ultra Web Navigator provided the overall menu system that allowed users to access the applications entire feature set while not taking valuable screen space, according to officials.

The additional object-oriented features of Microsofts Visual Basic .Net and server side controls of ASP .Net enhanced the functionality of the data sets, according to Brad McCabe, senior project manager at Ajilon. Likewise, the ability to reuse code was a major plus, McCabe said. Infragistics, in addition, supplied tools that extended the Visual Studio .Net environment.

Fallon credited the .Net tools for enabling accelerated development and scalability, and Infragistics, of Cranbury, N.J., for the speed inherent in Vipers frames and menu tools.

Viper is monitoring about a half-million circuits an hour.

"Normally, weve got about a [gigabyte] and a half of data to process every minute," Fallon said. "Were up to about 8[GB] of data now. Thats a 400 percent increase."

Verizon is considering making Viper available to other customers as Web services so technicians can access and input data into the system via a Web browser.

The .Net server line is in Beta 2 now, and a Microsoft official said this month that it will go into a third beta later this year. It wont be in general release until the first half of next year.

".Net—its a movement, like a religion," said Steve Burkfield, CEO of Automation Center Inc., a collaboration software vendor in Tucson, Ariz., that has incorporated Microsofts BizTalk and .Net capabilities into its core products platform. "If you talk to developers, theyll say its like XML [Extensible Markup Language] five years ago ... Theyll say the technology is there. But whos using it? Its a cool idea, but is the world really ready for that? I dont know—theyre not lining up to buy it."

As for Viper, once the reconstruction is completed at 140 West St., Verizon plans to use it to track orders for new services, Fallon said.

"Ill never lose the functionality. It will still be there," Fallon said. "God forbid, if this ever happens again, we have the methodology to put this right back on the shelf."