Network operations center takes off

The Federal Aviation Administration unveiled this month the Enterprise Network Operation Center (ENOC), which will centralize network management chores for the FAA's nine regions and provide improved communication for employees.

The ENOC will be manned by RMS Technologies and Digicon Corp., which will provide round-the-clock technical support, problem reporting and resolution, network status information, national and program-specific network monitoring, and program-specific network management for the FAA's regional offices. The FAA will manage the center.

By the first quarter of fiscal 1997, the ENOC will give the FAA a 10 megabit/sec connection to the Internet that will provide access for most of the agency's employees.

Currently, only about one-quarter of FAA employees have access to the Internet, but within a month as many as 95 percent of the FAA workforce will be connected.

"This is an example of how the FAA is making things work better," said Doug Carpenter, the deputy program manager for RMS Technologies' Telecommunication Management and Operations contract, under which many of the ENOC services were purchased. "It is a new culture at the FAA. They have been regionally oriented and have never had this kind of coordination."

The FAA started the ENOC process last year when it announced the Enterprise Network (ENET) program, which standardized names and addresses, DNS architecture services, migration plans and security guidelines. Once those standards were in place, the FAA turned to launching the more permanent ENOC.

With ENET and ENOC, the FAA will have a cohesive, agencywide wide-area network, removing "isolated pockets of networks," said Maurice Dearing, the deputy program manager for ENET.

The isolation has been particularly true of administrative and operations networks, which have dramatically different requirements. For example, networks that handled payroll did not have access to communications resources available to networks that control aircraft takeoffs and landings.

Now, when possible, administration and operations will share resources as needed. "Some administrative traffic will be on operations systems and vice versa," Carpenter said. "That is a positive trend."

The ENOC also handles local-area network management issues and performs nighttime system backups for networks throughout the country. FAA offices can arrange to pay the ENOC for services provided instead of building those capabilities in-house or contracting with an outside vendor.

Providing network management services from headquarters will save the regions a lot of money, said Alan Hayes, the ENET program manager. "It is a lot cheaper for them to pay for a staff-year of support from us than to build a network operations center," which would duplicate equipment and expertise.

The ENOC is made of banks of Sun Microsystems Inc. workstations running network remote-monitoring and management software from vendors such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Cisco Systems Inc. and Sun, and firewall software from CheckPoint Software Technology Ltd.

The FAA is using private IP addresses. The agency protects the ENET with Firewall-1 software to provide security. Even if hackers bypass the firewall, private IP addresses will keep intruders from accessing any information, Hayes added.

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