FAA Modernization Lifts Off

FAA's ASIS client/server system streamlines management of air space

Every morning at locales across the country, the Federal Aviation Administration's fleet of 30 Cessnas, Lear jets and other planes take to the skies to monitor the flying procedures of commercial pilots. Employing an MVS mainframe, FAA personnel download tapes of data on proper flight patterns and furnish the data to FAA field offices. Once there, it is uploaded to mobile labs for tolerance testing. Flight operations are managed under a batch-processing system, making it impossible to obtain a precise update on the current readiness of locally deployed resources in the system.

According to Travis Ray, the team leader of the operational systems development team at the FAA Office of Aviation Systems Standards, Oklahoma City, this old-style, data processing system forces FAA schedulers to "always work from a historic view of available resources, not a real-time view."

By next fall, that will no longer be the case. FAA's modern client/server system will help it deploy planes -- and maintain air safety -- across the country. The modernization of this system was authorized a few years ago, and implementation of the client/server approach began in February 1996.

The FAA's Aircraft Management Information System is a hierarchical, database-driven legacy system located at Oklahoma City, but it is being recast as the Aviation Standards Information System, a client/server, relational-database environment.

"ASIS will be comprised of four subsystems," Ray said. "The Navigational Information Subsystem tracks all the information about the navigational aids, including their location, acceptable tolerance readings and schedule for inspection. The Flight Operations Subsystem manages all flight operational aspects, including mission and crew scheduling. The Fleet Maintenance System manages all aircraft maintenance schedule and availability information. The fourth subsystem is the Centralized Scheduling Subsystem, which draws information from across the other systems to coordinate missions. We are porting all these subsystem components to run under client/server on ASIS."

The new ASIS architecture is running on 11 Sun Workstations, located both at the Oklahoma offices and at field offices. The workstations are linked via a wide area network. Oracle Corp.'s Oracle 7.2, running Solaris, is substituting for Adabase on MVS. "We're also running Patrol, from BMC Software, an application management tool, to administer and control the Oracle databases," said Ray.

"It will no longer be necessary to download the databases to tape and transport them out to the field to fly missions. Field offices will be able to load directly into the mobile labs in the hanger." What's more, the new system will let the FAA meet its long-cherished goal of providing real-time processing capabilities that will provide a clear picture of the current availability of all resources within the system.

Client/server, as experts indicate, provides cost savings and flexibility. But it also raised management issues for the FAA. The mission-critical systems could fail completely if any of the data on the Sun workstations running Oracle failed. But the agency found that applications management software from BMC could "bulletproof the system," according to Ray.

"Patrol application management agents are installed on each Oracle [relational database management system.] The agents monitor database applications, feeding status information back into a central console at headquarters. The database administrator can take both proactive and reactive actions from this one system to manage all Oracle applications across the WAN."

Also, the software provides disaster-recovery capability and networkwide application-management capability. "We can now identify bottlenecks in input/output, as well as [central processing unit] overloads, and perform load balancing to optimize the efficiency of resources," said Ray.

According to Kitty Cullen, vice president and general manager of BMC, further upgrades to Patrol are forthcoming. BMC reached a licensing deal with Intel to incorporate Patrol's monitoring capabilities on its Intel i960 processor. Now PC users can monitor the activities occurring on the motherboard.

"The Patrol product has been the only truly intelligent autonomous agent technology in the industry. We are in a unique position to embed this technology at the hardware level to provide the monitoring capabilities that up to now have been non-existent," said Cullen.

FAA's Aviation Network purchases its client/server technologies from the General Services Administration Schedule and on the open market. Ray indicates the agency is eyeing the new Patrol option. "We're trying to free up bandwidth and speed up usage," he said.

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