Computer Geeks Unite!
by Nick Stubbs
The air conditioning is cranked up to about 10 below igloo. On a metal rack, Prometheus and Thor click and clack - neither ever sleeps. LEDs flicker and dance while a network of insulated copper spaghetti winds its way between square and oblong boxes that comprise data central for everyone in the Logistics Readiness Squadron.
"If you are into computers, this is one of the best jobs," said Staff Sgt. Alex Ortiz, who will be changing duty stations soon, leaving his job at Lognet to the next computer geek.
And whoever that "lucky" person is, he's in for an education, which will be overseen by Lognet chief Edouardo Andre, "who's forgotten more than most people know."
Lognet, which is short for Logistics Network, is a network within the MacDill computer communications network and supports some 700 computer users in the squadron, including everyone in the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, many of whom are tied in wirelessly from armored laptop computers used along the flightline.
While the communications squadron renamed Prometheus and Thor to a series of numbers and letters, the servers named by Greek mythology buff Mr. Andre, keep their identity within the walls of Lognet, nestled on the upper floor of Hangar One. He looks upon the machines, both young and old alike, as his "babies." He even talks to them "to keep them happy." It must work. Lognet hasn't lost a byte of data since Mr. Andre joined it in 1998.
As long as users back up their important data to the Lognet servers, "everyone can sleep like a baby knowing I will take care of it," he said. "No data will be lost on my watch."
Lognet can store three terabytes of data, though that capacity is not needed at this time, he said. Multiple backups to hard drives and tape ensure the redundancy that makes Lognet staffers comfortable and network users happy and trouble free.
When you are in this business, nothing is more important than your users and their data, said Sergeant Ortiz, the only active duty member on the three-person staff and facilitator between the contractor, Lockheed Martin and the Wing. Larry Jordan, system administrator is the third member of the crew.
"When I first came on the job I walked into a situation where data had not been backed up and a hard drive had melted down," recalled Mr. Andre. "I vowed from that time that would never happen again."
It hasn't, and if every one of the 700 or so users on the network used the servers to backup their personal machines, they would ensure full recovery if their machine crashes and burns. "Do it," he advises, or at least burn CDs of important data files.
Among the data stored at Lognet are records relating to maintenance schedules, condition, parts and other aspects of maintaining the KC-135 fleet. Other bases are able to tap into the system to monitor flights, plane readiness and such. With all tanker bases linked this way, Air Force command always has a handle on what is happening with the total fleet. If Lognet fails, the Air Force is in the dark when it comes to MacDill, which is why the data center is so important.
"It's a key part of the overall mission," said Sgt. Ortiz.
To ensure the system runs smoothly and stays up to date, Mr. Andre stays in perpetual training, examining new software, hardware and making recommendations for upgrades. He also evaluates hardware and software solutions for unit commanders looking to add specific capabilities.
"Lots of reading and lots of paperwork," Mr. Andre said. "There's just so much out there."
Add in an average of 60 or 70 service calls a month and all other chores that used to be handled by a much larger staff "in the old days" and Lognet becomes a busy place at times.
It's a challenge keeping up," said Mr. Andre. "Coming up with solutions and workarounds has become our specialty."
"Workarounds" is a kind way of describing the ingenuity is sometimes takes to make buggy software and systems work. It's a reality that no program is flawless and some are worse than others. The real value of Lognet and its technicians is its ability to make things run as smoothly as possible with what it has.
And to that end, Mr. Andre says the LRS users can expect some big improvements soon. A much faster network is being phased in and "lightning" performance gains will be seen as far as network speed. New, faster and more secure wireless systems are coming, as well, and new, safer servers already are being put in place.
It likely will mean Thor and Prometheus will be powered down for good in exchange for the next generation of smaller, faster and more capable boxes, but that only gives the Lognet gang the opportunity to form some new bonds.
"I'm always amazed at the new equipment," said Mr. Andre, referring to a duo of new servers recently installed. He already sees they have some mythical qualities about them, the two machines mating to perform as one on the network in a way that he admits he does not completely understand yet. Perhaps when he does, a appropriate name from mythology will occur to him and someone will paste it onto the front panel of the new hardware - unofficially, of course.