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124th Communications Flight 'gig-upgrade' brings speedy new network

Tech Sgt. Jason Swensen, Staff Sgt. Joe Allen and Staff Sgt. Harvey Williams finish configuring an Information Transfer Node (ITN) during a network upgrade to communications equipment at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho on May 1st. Swensen, Allen and Williams are members of the 124th Communications Flight that worked to upgrade the base telecommunications network. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Walsh)

Tech Sgt. Jason Swensen, Staff Sgt. Joe Allen and Staff Sgt. Harvey Williams finish configuring an Information Transfer Node (ITN) during a network upgrade to communications equipment at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho on May 1st. Swensen, Allen and Williams are members of the 124th Communications Flight that worked to upgrade the base telecommunications network. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Walsh)

GOWEN FIELD, Boise, Idaho -- For the last several months you may have seen contractors pulling network cable in various Air Guard buildings on Gowen Field. The base also experienced a planned network outage that affected many April 30. Both are visible evidence of the growing pains involved in a major telecommunications network upgrade to bring a faster and more robust one-gigabit connection to the wing.


"The upgrade, a result of a new standard passed down from the Guard Bureau, allows the base to run a gigabit of network traffic--a ten-fold increase in network speed for faster connections and greater volume," said Tech. Sgt. Dale Hager of the 124th Communications Flight.

The overall system enhancement, known as the"gig upgrade"to Gowen Field's Air Guard network, is made up of several projects that the 124th COMM Flight will complete in various phases. It began in August 2010 with the inside plant project to upgrade the network cabling from telecom industry 'Cat five' cable to 'Cat six' inside the buildings. The inside plant project was recently completed and followed by the gig upgrade project, that caused the May UTA outage.


The gig upgrade is complete, from a customer standpoint, but the COMM flight continued their work on the project through May. COMM Flight will follow with an outside project that will upgrade the fiber optic cable that runs from
building to building across Gowen field.


"We all use the network, and at times we know how slow it can be. This upgrade will allow ten times the traffic on a day to day basis," said Hager.


"The gig upgrade is made up of several projects with the ultimate goal to increase connection speeds, make the network more robust, and ensure reliability," said Master Sgt. Brad Shaul, 124th Communications Flight Quality Assurance, "These are all pieces of the puzzle that need to get done."


As part of the gig upgrade, four ITNs (Information Transfer Node) placed strategically around base, were upgraded April 30, causing the planned outage. Even after the network was back up, COMM personnel worked late into the evening to wrap up the internal plant project.


"The ITNs are the backbone of the network infrastructure and are a critical hardware component of the upgrade," said Hager.


Over the next few weeks COMM will start on the Network Control Center Reconstructed (NCCR) project to replace aging servers and implement some virtual servers for the crossover to the new gigabit connection.


"The NCCR project will increase our backup capabilities and make maintenance seamless; the customers won't even know we're doing it," said Shaul.


In conjunction with the NCCR, COMM Flight will also start the outside plant project that provides new conduit and fiber from building-to-building. You will likely see the backhoes digging around base for the next few weeks.


"The upgrades are really a win-win for the end users and the specialists who work on the network in COMM. The users will see a performance increase in network traffic and it will make the equipment more user-friendly and easier to manage for the COMM Flight," said Hagar. "It also gives COMM more options to streamline the maintenance of the network."


Shaul explained that COMM Flight gains many trouble shooting tools built into the new equipment. This will assist them in identifying issues quickly and preventing down time.


"From this point forward we will experience no downtime due to performance upgrades and maintenance. We no longer have to bring the customer's (service) down which is painful for us," said Shaul.


The increased reliability can minimize downtime to as little as a few seconds a year. The techies refer to this as "five nines" availability which means the network is up 99.999% of the time.


When asked about the challenges of the upgrade Shaul said, "The scheduling of the inside plan project was very challenging and telling customers we are turning them off, that is always painful."


While in the midst of the gig upgrade project COMM Flight recently completed a wireless project that provided ten wireless access points around base according to Master Sgt. James Lindholm of the 124th Communications Flight Plans and Implementation.


One of the next big projects COMM Flight will tackle is a new phone switch in preparation for a voice-over-IP (VOIP) system. With the VOIP upgrade, the phones will run on the base fiber connection instead of the old copper telephone line infrastructure. The phone upgrade is planned to start mid-August. Customers will get new handsets with new capabilities.


"Technology is moving toward VOIP systems all around the world. It's faster, clearer and provides some major savings in long distance charges," Lindholm.