Print 28 comment(s) - last by Give Me the Ga.. on Aug 29 at 11:29 PM

FAA says it may add a third backup system after airlines crashed the current backup

When thinking about where in the country the most powerful computer systems might be, a few places naturally come to mind -- universities and research centers. It would be reasonable to believe that some serious processing power and new technology would be in use with the FAA considering it handles flight plans and more for aircraft flying constantly all over the country.

Earlier this week, the FAA servers in Atlanta responsible for handling all flight plans across the country crashed leaving massive flight delays at several major airports including Atlanta, Boston, Washington D.C., and Chicago.

Many would be surprised to hear that as important a task as these computers handled, the technology in use was from the 1970's. One obvious question after the servers went down from many was -- where are the backup systems? The FAA says that it in fact has a backup system, but in the wake of the main system crash, airlines simply kept resubmitting flight plans and eventually crashed the backup server. The backup server lacked the memory to handle the massive amount of resubmitted flight plans.

The main server crash was found to have been caused by simple human error according to CNET News. The failure was caused by an IPX9000 packet switch, which someone had loaded with the wrong configuration data.

FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said, "The big difference is that (the new system) has a lot more memory, so what happened yesterday could never happen again." Another FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, said that it is considering adding a third backup system in its New Jersey training and research facility.

The FAA notes that employees ended up having to call the airlines and tell them to stop hitting resubmit on the flight plans. The FAA says that it will be upgrading the system completely by early next year.

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By isorfir on 8/28/2008 3:02:26 PM , Rating: 4
FAA's New Slogan: "We learn the hard way."

By TSS on 8/28/2008 3:30:47 PM , Rating: 5
it's more of a classic case of "when it's not broken, don't fix it."

when something crashes, it's broken and needs fixing. if this software hasn't crashed hard enough to warrent a "fixing" in 3 decades i'd say it's pretty solid.

what i'd worry about now is the uprade and the problems that will cause. probably more then the old software has had during all that uptime.

By FITCamaro on 8/28/08, Rating: -1
By BMFPitt on 8/28/2008 4:23:20 PM , Rating: 3
If they're replacing it by early next year, then that replacement must have already been in the works for a while. I do software for the FAA (voice communications, not this.) We don't do software quickly, by design.

By kilkennycat on 8/28/2008 6:50:33 PM , Rating: 1
No hurry...? What a really cushy job (and with a fat pension)! Taking applications?

By BMFPitt on 8/28/2008 7:01:00 PM , Rating: 3
Plenty of do the massive amount of testing that is done before anything goes out the door.

By JediJeb on 8/29/2008 2:19:19 PM , Rating: 3
Well when you see what happens when MS rushes something out the door, I certainly would like the FAA to do things more slowly and test more completely. Would really hate to have two jets flying towards each other and get a popup saying " the program has performed an illegal opperation, please restart your computer"

By codeThug on 8/28/2008 9:13:11 PM , Rating: 2
The opposite being "fix it before it breaks".

Both are equally valid.

Both can get you into enormous trouble.

By Proxes on 8/28/2008 3:50:27 PM , Rating: 2
See what happens when companies try to save money by cutting back on the old IT budget?

RE: Heh
By arazok on 8/28/2008 3:56:16 PM , Rating: 2
You’re assuming there was an old budget to cut back. Sadly, my experience in the industry is that there never was one to begin with.

RE: Heh
By jackedupandgoodtogo on 8/28/2008 4:22:13 PM , Rating: 3
Actually, there is. But it's always under budgeted due to the way government bids work. The pick the lowest bid, and the contractor simply reprices everything after they win. What can the government do after they've spent the amount of the winning bid, and yet it's not done and more money needs to be spent. Classic government waste.

RE: Heh
By alifbaa on 8/28/2008 4:41:12 PM , Rating: 4
That's an oversimplification.

The government contracting procedures require an independent error check of the prices listed in proposals.

In my time dealing with government contracts, I've seen the government accept a higher bidder because they don't believe the price quote of another firm. When the contract is worded properly (or improperly, depending on your perspective), I've also seen the government find some great deals that actually wound up costing contractors dearly.

Government contracting isn't perfect, but it's actually pretty efficient. In my experience (10+ yrs), the process usually yields the best product at the lowest price.

RE: Heh
By PandaBear on 8/28/2008 8:48:51 PM , Rating: 2
Agree, a lot of the problem is actually the nature of projects. Private companies have project overruns and that is typical in many R&D or mission critical projects. I'd say sometimes it is the spec was too high, or we are demanding too high a standard that costs a lot. Sometimes that's needed, and we just have to suck up and pay.

RE: Heh
By kbehrens on 8/29/2008 3:48:33 PM , Rating: 2
Blaming this on a "cutback" isn't really correct. It's really due to the fact that the money allocated has been all wasted on bureaucratic overhead, red tape, and contracts awarded to incompetent firms. The usual story when dealing with the government.

RE: Heh
By rudolphna on 8/29/2008 12:23:06 AM , Rating: 2
Just because its old, doesnt mean its unreliable. Many important systems, use older technology- reliable, relatively bulletproof technology. A good example is Reactor control systems for Naval Reactors. MagAmps, instead of microprocessors, are a good example. If the current FAA servers work fine, why spend billions to replace them with something that likely wont last 10 years?

I picked the wrong day
By Spivonious on 8/28/2008 3:30:04 PM , Rating: 5
to quit sniffing glue.

RE: I picked the wrong day
By Cerberus81 on 8/28/2008 3:54:28 PM , Rating: 1
This deserves a 6.

RE: I picked the wrong day
By Schadenfroh on 8/28/2008 5:35:10 PM , Rating: 2
Only Rex Kramer can grant it a 6.

RE: I picked the wrong day
By MrBungle123 on 8/28/2008 5:05:20 PM , Rating: 2
and thats when the shit hit the fan.

By The Boston Dangler on 8/28/2008 9:03:41 PM , Rating: 2
over macho grande?

It's not just the FAA that's stuck in the '70s
By darkpuppet on 8/28/2008 4:02:59 PM , Rating: 2
It's not just the FAA that's running some major old hardware and software... your nearest major airline is likely still running things on a mainframe via an ascii terminal.

And when you consider the business rules and logic that's been gathering in those systems for nearly 3 decades, there's no telling what's going to happen when your favourite airline attempts to do an upgrade.

Same also applies to your cable companies, telecos and banks. Huge infrustructures and software optimized in '70s technology to maintain major infrastructures..

It's easier to get a job programming Cobalt than java.

By Scrogneugneu on 8/28/2008 7:48:56 PM , Rating: 3
I'd love to learn how to program in Cobalt.

famous last words
By puffpio on 8/28/2008 4:12:19 PM , Rating: 2
"so what happened yesterday could never happen again"

RE: famous last words
By PandaBear on 8/28/2008 8:50:28 PM , Rating: 2
Except if it does it will be something else, or we will call it something else.

By LatinMessiah on 8/28/2008 6:04:28 PM , Rating: 2
...don't hire DeVry graduates.

RE: Tip...
By DigitalFreak on 8/28/2008 7:52:39 PM , Rating: 2

By porkpie on 8/28/2008 3:30:38 PM , Rating: 3
Lol, great accompanying pic.

By Give Me the Gas on 8/29/2008 11:29:57 PM , Rating: 2
I love the picture from the Airplane movie. This is great. LMAO !!

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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