FAA migrates traffic flow to Linux

The Federal Aviation Administration has migrated its Unix-based traffic flow management system to Linux, allowing the agency to purchase lower-cost commodity servers. As a result, the agency cut the cost of this technology refresh to just under $10 million, a savings of $15 million, according to Joshua Gustin, TFM modernization program manager.

Originally, the FAA had estimated it would cost $25 million to upgrade its Enhanced Traffic Management System, which is part of the Traffic Flow Management Infrastructure. ETMS fuses weather and flight data, offering air-traffic planners a graphical view of current conditions, allowing them to balance airplane traffic.

The Transportation Department's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass., produces the data, which is then accessed by over 700 workstations in 100 FAA and military sites across the country.

For the refresh, FAA used Red Hat Enterprise Linux from Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh N.C., allowing the agency to use lower-cost commodity machines. Gustin estimated that each workstation cost $3,000 a piece, which would be much less than $25,000 required for each Unix model. Because of the savings, the agency was able to set up an additional 300 workstations.

On the server side, the agency was able to consolidate resources. Before the technology refresh, the agency used 16 servers to provide data to remote locations; now the program uses only four, two of which run as backups.

'The sheer footprint of that is incredible to us,' Gustin said.

The migration from Unix to Linux required the agency to port 1.5 million lines of code, which ran on HP/UX Unix servers. Some of that code had not been updated in over 20 years, Gustin said. In order to tackle this job, the agency first built some prototypes of specific modules, which allowed the program to configure and test the language libraries that would be used by multiple parts of the system.

'That worked really well,' Gustin said 'We spent months getting the first one right, but we were able to learn all those porting lessons that we really had to work out for every module.' By the time the group got to the flight-processing module, they were able to port that core component within a month or so.

The refresh will prepare the FAA for its Traffic Flow Management Modernization initiative, scheduled for 2008. That effort will re-engineer the entire system from the ground up, Gustin said. The system discards its current client/server architecture in favor of a Web-based service-oriented architecture, using an Oracle backend database.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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