Switch is on at NAVOCEANO

After many centuries on the seas, you might think the world’s navies would have
finished charting the oceans, but the job just keeps getting bigger.

The Naval Oceanographic Office operates eight survey stations and gathers information
from hundreds more remote sites around the world to track tides, temperatures and shifting

Until recently, data moved around NAVOCEANO headquarters at NASA’s Stennis Space
Center in Mississippi over what former networking and communications director Steve Adamec
called “the traditional mix of legacy LAN technologies.”

The center used shared Ethernets, switched Ethernet, Fiber Distributed Data Interface,
asynchronous transfer mode and High Performance Parallel Interface connections.

“We have an outstanding networking team, but we had stretched the technology to
its limits,” said Adamec, now director of the Defense Department’s High
Performance Computing Center at Stennis.

NAVOCEANO now is moving its two networks, secured and unsecured, to a fully switched
environment. A 155-Mbps Synchronous Optical Network OC-3 backbone will feed switched
Ethernet or Fast Ethernet to about 1,200 desktops.

The networking and communications group decided to standardize on a single
vendor’s switches to get better performance and more resilience.

“Keeping the network up is of paramount importance,” Adamec said. “We
have not had the luxury of taking the network down.”

NAVOCEANO traces its lineage to the 1830-era Navy Depot of Charts and Instruments,
which became the Hydrographic Office in 1866. It was redesignated the Naval Oceanographic
Office in 1962, and in 1976 its headquarters moved to Stennis from Suitland, Md., where it
had turned out as many as 43 million charts per year during World War II.

Over time, the mapping job has altered radically from gathering millions of reports on
ocean conditions from mariners. After the Titanic sank in 1912, for instance, the office
began systematically surveying ice thickness and characteristics.

Today, high-resolution models of global tidal flow are used by astronomers who study
the slowing of the earth’s rotation as well as timekeepers who calculate the length
of a day to the nth degree.

But NAVOCEANO’s primary job remains providing accurate and detailed information to
the fleet. As a Defense Department Major Shared Resource Center for High Performance
Computing, NAVOCEANO makes detailed models of complex global systems. In September, the
office ordered one of the first 16-processor Cray SV1 supercomputers from Silicon Graphics

The new computer will join a Cray supercomputing array that includes a 544-processor
T3E system, a 188-processor SGI Origin2000, a 24-processor T932 vector supercomputer, a
12-processor T916 system, one 16-processor and two four-processor J916 systems, and seven
12-processor Onyx visual supercomputers.

With so much computing power available, the shared Ethernet LAN could not continue to
support the 1,200 headquarters users.

Planning began about three years ago for an ATM backbone. Gigabit Ethernet was not
mature enough at the time, said Bill Armour, principal technical architect for the
networking and communications team.

Work began about a year ago. Both the secure and the unsecured networks have two Xylan
Omni9 switches at their cores. Attached by OC3 ATM links are more Omni9 switches, smaller
OmniStack switches and an Omni MSS LAN-to-ATM internetworking switch. The network
guarantees a degree of future-proofing because it can be upgraded to 622-Mbps Sonet OC-12
rates if necessary.

“It will serve us in the short term, and we think it will meet more than our
short-term needs,” Adamec said. 

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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