FAA chooses Stratus for continuous availability

* Why the Federal Aviation Administration chose Stratus

For Andy Isaksen, computer scientist for the Federal Aviation Administration in Atlanta, having servers that are up 24/7 is imperative.

Isaksen’s network is the crux of the FAA’s flight plans - each plane that flies in, enters or leaves American airspace has to file a plan with Isaksen’s system, which processes more than 1.5 million messages daily. The network is the data interchange between the U.S. and other nations to communicate flight plans for commercial and general aviation, weather and advisory notices to pilots.

Isaksen uses two Philips DS714 mainframe computers as his message-switching network. The DS714 was originally manufactured in 1968 and upgraded with new processors in 1981. Since then, they have been getting increasingly harder to maintain, support and write code for.

"These machines don't really have an operating system," says Isaksen. "This was in the days when the assembly language was written directly to the machine. We have hardware that is no longer supportable."

To solve his problem and keep his network running with no downtime, Isaksen decided he needed to replace his aged machines. He looked into several fault-tolerant computers before he found Stratus’ FTserver 6400, a server that uses Intel’s Xeon processors.

“We looked at a lot of products, including HP NonStop computers,” says Isaksen. “But there are not many out in the market, and it really boiled down to Stratus offering a more cost-effective solution for us that was significantly cheaper than the HP NonStop.”

Isaksen will install two Stratus FTservers in his production network - one in Atlanta and the other in Salt Lake City. Two other identical servers are part of a test bed for running applications Isaksen and his staff write. 

“The two centers run in a load-shared mode and at any instance can take over for each other," says Isaksen. "If one server dies, the other one almost instantly takes over so there is no loss of service to the aviation community."

The processors in each Stratus server run in lockstep - each write to one processor is simultaneously made to the other. Isaksen’s staff wrote software to allow the two Stratus boxes to communicate with each other and to fail over in the event of problems.

Isaksen will be deploying the Stratus servers to the field in the middle of next month but doesn’t expect they will go into production until the first of next year.

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