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GPS Transitions to New Control System

Zonk posted about 7 years ago | from the angels-on-our-shoulders dept.

Space 170

gsfprez writes "It took us a long time, but the Air Force has finally moved off of the 1970's mainframe GPS control system and is now running on a new Unix-based Control System called AEP — Architecture Evolution Plan. It's important to remember that current GPS satellites are basically solar powered iPod shuffles with atomic clocks that simply playback whatever we upload into them at a precise rate. They don't actually have any idea where they are — its the control system at Schriever Air Force Base that does. The new system will be a lot cheaper to support and modify since Sun stocks things like SATA drives - while digging up Saturday Night Fever-era DASDs isn't simple. AEP will also allow us to be ahead of the curve: we're basically good to go to fly the new IIF birds."

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Yay! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20657587)

They finally upgraded from 1970s technology to..

..Unix. Oh.

Um.

Yay!!!

Re:Yay! (1)

peragrin (659227) | about 7 years ago | (#20657981)

damn I wish I had mod points still an AC that's actually funny is a rare post.

Confusion (3, Insightful)

Applekid (993327) | about 7 years ago | (#20657589)

... basically solar powered iPod shuffles with atomic clocks ... cheaper to support and modify since Sun stocks things like SATA drives ... good to go to fly the new IIF birds.
Is it that it's Tuesday and I've already had enough hassle to fill a week, or was anyone else thoroughly confused by TFS?

Re:Confusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20657765)

Thank god - I am not going crazy. Initially I thought I had woken up in future or some shit like that!

Re:Confusion (5, Funny)

eln (21727) | about 7 years ago | (#20657767)

I'm not confused, I'm pissed! The Air Force apparently had solar powered iPod shuffles way back in the 1970s while the rest of us had to wait until 2005, and ours aren't even solar powered!

Re:Confusion (5, Funny)

megaditto (982598) | about 7 years ago | (#20658281)

It's the Air Force that should be pissed. They have paid a billion for the first 27 iPods, while those that waited bought theirs for $300... AF should demand a store credit!

Re:Confusion (5, Funny)

langelgjm (860756) | about 7 years ago | (#20658887)

Q: What are they going to do with a billion dollar credit at the iTunes store? They song catalog isn't nearly that big!

A: Ringtones.

Re:Confusion (3, Informative)

WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) | about 7 years ago | (#20659867)

You can't use your store credit for iTunes Music Store gift cards.

Re:Confusion (2, Informative)

Gordonjcp (186804) | about 7 years ago | (#20658099)

Something conceptually similar to an iPod shuffle. Basically the GPS satellites transmit a bitstream at a very very precise clock rate. This bitstream is preprogrammed. The "iPod Shuffle" comment comes about because it's just playing back a prerecorded signal.

It sounds like Richard Devine.

Re:Confusion (1)

bcattwoo (737354) | about 7 years ago | (#20658133)

... basically solar powered iPod shuffles with atomic clocks ... cheaper to support and modify since Sun stocks things like SATA drives ... good to go to fly the new IIF birds.
Is it that it's Tuesday and I've already had enough hassle to fill a week, or was anyone else thoroughly confused by TFS?
Yes, this summary reads more like the incoherent ramblings of an AC post.

Roland? (3, Funny)

iamlucky13 (795185) | about 7 years ago | (#20658295)

After reading the iPod bit, I had to doublecheck to make sure the submission wasn't from you-know-how, but then I realized it both made too much sense and contained too little gobbledygook to be from him.

However, now I'm going to be anxiously watching the firehose for an article announcing Apple's new iDecay line of atomic clocks. These will be far better than the Air Force's because they'll have built in battery packs instead of relying on solar power, and offer touch sensitive screens which will redefine the paradigm of atomic clock interfaces.

* iDecay not recommended for people with pacemakers or sensitive to ionizing radiation. Apple does not guarantee the accuracy of iDecay. Maintenance on battery pack by non-certified personel will void warranty. Possession of an iDecay may be used as evidence of WMD's. Do not take internally. Use of iDecay near copywrited material may result in quantum entanglement with the storage medium and is a violation of the DMCA. If you experience an erection lasting more than four hours while using iDecay, your Apple-fanboi status has reached flat-out perversion and you should seek professional assistance. iDecay requires Quicktime.

will this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20657605)

will this lead to cheaper GPS units in the future? Will it open up some innovation in the open source market so that we can have high quality software on low cost hardware?

Re:will this (2, Informative)

feepness (543479) | about 7 years ago | (#20657701)

will this lead to cheaper GPS units in the future? Will it open up some innovation in the open source market so that we can have high quality software on low cost hardware?
No. This is the transmission side of the system, not the receiver. The consumer doesn't pay for that (except through taxes).

The system they are referring to here tracks the satellites and tells them what to say. The output will not change, just the method used to generate it.

Re:will this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20657707)

Yes, for the same reason that TV stations updating their cameras will lead to cheaper TV sets at BestBuy.

Re:will this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20658097)

You are saying its not true?? But that's what Joe at BestBuy told me when I bought a big@$$ HDTV with freaking 1080p with Monster HDMI Cable and BluRay player with 3 yrs warranty and the Geek Squad install plan.

hmmm (1)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | about 7 years ago | (#20657617)

Considering the upkeep on the old system, this new system could pay for itself in no time!

Your Credit Card (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20657655)

has been revoked instead of your citizenship.

U.S.A. Communist Party FP!

"us", "we", who? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20657667)

Just who is this summary aimed at exactly?

wow. (5, Insightful)

White Shade (57215) | about 7 years ago | (#20657689)

"Solar powered iPod shuffles with atomic clocks" ... is that the best metaphor they could come up with?!

how media-friendly can you get, damn....

Why not just say that they are high-precision devices that are coordinated from the ground, and that they updated the ground software to something newer and more maintainable? Why do they have to mention a completely unrelated Apple product?

*sigh*

Re:wow. (1)

ed.mps (1015669) | about 7 years ago | (#20657805)

You must be new here...

Re:wow. (1)

White Shade (57215) | about 7 years ago | (#20657989)

I'm not, actually, although that was my first ever post tagged as a troll :D

Seriously though... why flying ipod shuffles? I just don't understand hat that has to do with anything.

oh well.

Re:wow. (1)

ed.mps (1015669) | about 7 years ago | (#20658237)

luckyly, someone modded up you have got that by yourself: media-friendly summaries...

what your post is like (4, Funny)

thegnu (557446) | about 7 years ago | (#20657909)

It's like an iPhone with words on the screen, that's what. Stupid words. Shut up.
--Steve

what my post is like (2, Funny)

thegnu (557446) | about 7 years ago | (#20658215)

it's a joke about Steve Jobs. Laugh, bitches.

Re:wow. (1)

gsfprez (27403) | about 7 years ago | (#20658253)

i wanted my mom to understand in case she read TFS.

Re:wow. (1)

Brownstar (139242) | about 7 years ago | (#20658455)

Because most of us are familiar with what an iPod Shuffle is.

And in those 2 words, he was able to describe to us, what it took you a whole paragraph to describe.

Re:wow. (4, Insightful)

blhack (921171) | about 7 years ago | (#20659103)

Actually the ipod shuffle thing confused me. Are they talking about the size of the device? Are saying that the device is meant to play music? Do they mean that it is simply powered by a battery? Seriously, I am completely failing to see any correlation between a military satelite and a white ego inflating piece of plastic that was built by the lowest bidder in some third world country.

I propose a new godwin-esque law. First person to mention an apple product in a story that has absolutely NOTHING to do with apple gets 30 lashings.

Re:wow. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20659233)

we can call it the "lemming law".

Whoops! (1)

Etrias (1121031) | about 7 years ago | (#20657729)

Somebody tell Darl. Apparently somebody still uses Unix.

Rawr! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20657775)

Arrr! [janbrett.com]

Ok I normally don't... (0, Offtopic)

BlueParrot (965239) | about 7 years ago | (#20657731)

.. but whatever Zonk started smoking lately, I want some.

For all you old farts out there (1)

toddbu (748790) | about 7 years ago | (#20657785)

DASD - Now there's a term I haven't heard in a long time. I guess that it's relegated to history along with ABEND and EBCDIC.

Re:For all you old farts out there (1)

Saint Stephen (19450) | about 7 years ago | (#20657929)

I had to do some EBCDIC encoding in C# just the other day!

http://www.yoda.arachsys.com/csharp/ebcdic/ [arachsys.com]

Re:For all you old farts out there (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20659519)

Heh. The first C# program I wrote (back in 2002) processed OS390 performance data, so I needed to write an EBCDIC converter.

Re:For all you old farts out there (1)

ishmalius (153450) | about 7 years ago | (#20658053)

And RACF for security.

One thing I noticed in the DASD photo: It's totally inaccurate. -Nobody- has ever had those old cabinets with their doors shut. They were always hanging open (if they were even attached), with rats nests of cables within and without.

Re:For all you old farts out there (1)

GNU(slash)Nickname (761984) | about 7 years ago | (#20658207)

DASD - Now there's a term I haven't heard in a long time. I guess that it's relegated to history along with ABEND and EBCDIC.
Oh trust me, there are still enough Netware servers out there to ensure that ABEND won't be going away anytime soon.

Re:For all you old farts out there (1)

gurutc (613652) | about 7 years ago | (#20658255)

well that's why ABEND isn't in the Scrabble dictionary and ASCII is...

Re:For all you old farts out there (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20660271)

I dunno I watch abends al day here

oh how I enjoy fixing up a good old B37

Re:For all you old farts out there (1)

renehollan (138013) | about 7 years ago | (#20658545)

and EBCDIC.

Having cut my teeth in a CDC shop running NOS, that's EBCiheaDIC to me. 'course DISPLAY CODE wasn't much better, save for the occasional sending of :D to a terminal.

Epoch rollover? (2, Funny)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 7 years ago | (#20659219)

I trust the administrators of the system will make sure the code is robust against the epoch rollover.

Big Iron (3, Insightful)

kevmatic (1133523) | about 7 years ago | (#20657801)

I wonder what IBM mainframe they used. If it was an 360/370, couldn't they have just upgraded to a new IBM mainframe and kept the old software, after much much testing?

I applaud them, though, for spending the money to get this done, and get rid of all the legacy crap. It will seriously pay of in the long run, even against just upgrading the hardware. Big Old Companies still using piles of FORTRAN and COBOL should learn from this.

Re:Big Iron (3, Funny)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 7 years ago | (#20657941)

It's amazing what you can accomplish when your annual budget approaches a trillion dollars, isn't it?

Re:Big Iron (4, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | about 7 years ago | (#20658251)

Is it still called a budget when you get however much money you ask for?

Re:Big Iron (2, Insightful)

PhxBlue (562201) | about 7 years ago | (#20658807)

Is it still called a budget when you get however much money you ask for?

If only. Instead, the Air Force has to sack 40,000 positions in order to buy new fighters.

I thought we were desperate for man-power? (1)

FatSean (18753) | about 7 years ago | (#20659097)

Those 40,000 positions could have been re-trained to guard Halliburton convoys! Typical government waste...

Re:Big Iron (4, Insightful)

Detritus (11846) | about 7 years ago | (#20658021)

If the legacy crap works, it isn't crap. I never had a PDP-11 "blue screen" on me.

Real programmers use FORTRAN, not the quiche-eating boutique language-of-the-month.

Amen. (2, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | about 7 years ago | (#20658225)

If the legacy crap works, it isn't crap.

Truer words were never spoken.

PDP-11 (3, Insightful)

mhollis (727905) | about 7 years ago | (#20658381)

I crashed a descendant of a PDP-11 numerous times. And not on purpose. It was an application that may not particularly have been well-written. Butt It would generally crash at least twice weekly and you just hoped you had saved recently.

It was an RT-11 running the CMX 3600 [wikipedia.org] software.

No BSOD but that's because it was not capable of generating a blue screen. It was green or amber. Take your pick.

Re:PDP-11 (1)

hughk (248126) | about 7 years ago | (#20659933)

RT11 was fairly clean and was widely used in environments varying from labs through to control systems without problems. It was fairly easy for user code to bring the system down (the MMU usage was basic at best). However it was rather primitive compared with another system, RSX-11M which was implemented using a separate user space. Such systems tended to just carry on working, I have seen them running steel mills down to traffic lights as well as the enroute ATC system for the North Atlantic. OTOH, I've seen an NMR machine using RT11. All perfectly stable.

Re:Big Iron (2, Insightful)

darkonc (47285) | about 7 years ago | (#20658121)

They didn't want to continue using the old software -- and, given that they wanted a complete rewrite of the old code, staying with {a seriously crufty old mainframe OS that considers terminals to be wierdass cardreader/cardpunch units} would be just silly.

The other nice thing about doing things this way is that, if the new UNIX code turns out to have nasty bugs, they can always failover to the old system. If the new system is based on an entirely new architecture, then the probability of simultaneous bugs is pleasantly low.

Re:Big Iron (1)

Etcetera (14711) | about 7 years ago | (#20660281)

...they wanted a complete rewrite of the old code, staying with {a seriously crufty old mainframe OS that considers terminals to be wierdass cardreader/cardpunch units} would be just silly.

Whew! I'm sure glad they're moving to UNIX then! No tty [wikipedia.org] 's for [wikipedia.org] them! And it's good to know that their fancy new SATA drives won't have to deal with that legacy sequential-tape mindset [wikipedia.org] ...

Which Version of Unix (2, Funny)

Steve Newall (24926) | about 7 years ago | (#20657875)

Air Force has finally moved off of the 1970's mainframe GPS control system and is now running on a new Unix-based Control System

Which release of Unix are they moving to? Would that be an SCO Unix (System V Release 3.2) or SCO UnixWare (System V Release 4) :-)

Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (3, Insightful)

thesandbender (911391) | about 7 years ago | (#20657931)

So... someone dumps a high yield nuke (more likely a few high yield nukes) on one location and the whole GPS system goes to hell after a few days/weeks? Please tell me this isn't the case. Otherwise someone didn't think their cunning plan all the way through.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (2, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 7 years ago | (#20658159)

Following the nuclear war that would ensue from such an incident, a lack of GPS service will be the least of your worries.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

Detritus (11846) | about 7 years ago | (#20658183)

They have backup systems in place.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | about 7 years ago | (#20659679)

Yeah, but if another someone detonated 3 or 4 nukes about 100 miles up in the atmosphere, the GPS sats would be gone for good.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (2, Interesting)

chiph (523845) | about 7 years ago | (#20658185)

Given that pretty much all our military's high-accuracy munitions depend on GPS for their "smartness", there is almost certainly a redundant control system elsewhere. Possibly with the 1st Mob or the 3rd Herd, which are expeditionary forces so they aren't sitting ducks like an Air Base is.

Chip H.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

bcattwoo (737354) | about 7 years ago | (#20658191)

So... someone dumps a high yield nuke (more likely a few high yield nukes) on one location and the whole GPS system goes to hell after a few days/weeks? Please tell me this isn't the case. Otherwise someone didn't think their cunning plan all the way through.
If someone drops a few high yield nukes on the U.S. the state of the GPS system in a few days/weeks is probably irrelevant to all parties involved.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 7 years ago | (#20658831)

If someone drops a few high yield nukes on the U.S. the state of the GPS system in a few days/weeks is probably irrelevant to all parties involved.


Since the primary purpose of the GPS system is coordinating US (and allied) military activity, which one imagine that there would be quite a lot of in the wake of such an event, I think you are mistaken. OTOH, one imagines that there are several backup control stations ready to take over in the event of an attack on the primary one.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

bcattwoo (737354) | about 7 years ago | (#20659169)

Since the primary purpose of the GPS system is coordinating US (and allied) military activity, which one imagine that there would be quite a lot of in the wake of such an event, I think you are mistaken. OTOH, one imagines that there are several backup control stations ready to take over in the event of an attack on the primary one.

I was thinking more along the lines that once we get to the point of lobbing nukes at each other pinpoint precision with conventional weapons becomes less of an issue.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 7 years ago | (#20660095)

I was thinking more along the lines that once we get to the point of lobbing nukes at each other pinpoint precision with conventional weapons becomes less of an issue.


IIRC, the inertial navigation systems on SSBN's are set by periodic synchronization with the GPS system, so in a sense GPS is part of the system of lobbing nukes with pinpoint precision.

Then again, the retaliation to a single-point nuclear attack may not be (or may not entirely be) nuclear, depending on the circumstances.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | about 7 years ago | (#20658193)

It isn't. We have some backup facilities in different locations around the country in case of a scenario like this.

And those will be disclosed in an article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20658365)

A NY Times reporter was going to divulge the location of all backup sync systems for the GPS network. It was going to be published this week, so the govt had to hurry up and complete the system upgrade. The COG plan called for this upgrade to be finished in 2005.

Re:And those will be disclosed in an article (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | about 7 years ago | (#20660097)

Really? You don't happen to know who the NYTimes reporter was and with whom the reporter was corresponding, do you? Because otherwise I'm going to have to call bullshit.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20658233)

Oh noes! The Space and Missile Systems Center, which "manages more than $60 billion in contracts, has an annual operating budget of $10 billion and employs more than 6,800 people worldwide," together with Boeing Company, "who led a joint Boeing-Lockheed Martin contractor team," and the 2nd Space Operations Squadron from the 50th Space Wing and the 19th Space Operations Squadron from the 310th Space Group, plans and executes an upgrade for the GPS Control System, but it only takes one slashdotter 10 seconds after reading TFS to find a fatal flaw in the entire operation.

I love Slashdot.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

jeffy210 (214759) | about 7 years ago | (#20658261)

Depends, are there only periodic uploads to update the bitstreams being relayed from the satellites, or is it a constant connection? If it's the former than it doesn't really matter what happens to the base and they'll merrily spit out data as long as they're active.

They planned for that, it's called "nuclear war." (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | about 7 years ago | (#20658275)

It's a good thing that the big nuclear weapons that they'd use to retaliate with ... don't use GPS.

(Hint: ICBMs and SLBMs use inertial and stellar navigation for this reason.)

Re:They planned for that, it's called "nuclear war (1)

modecx (130548) | about 7 years ago | (#20659491)


(Hint: ICBMs and SLBMs use inertial and stellar navigation for this reason.)


Well, it's not like they have to be very accurate...

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (2, Insightful)

Starteck81 (917280) | about 7 years ago | (#20658429)

So... someone dumps a high yield nuke (more likely a few high yield nukes) on one location and the whole GPS system goes to hell after a few days/weeks? Please tell me this isn't the case. Otherwise someone didn't think their cunning plan all the way through. Who knows, that could have been one of the driving forces behind this up grade.

Just because they didn't mention it in the article doesn't mean a backup site doesn't exist. Also if one doesn't exist then they should be able to create one much easier now that they've update to UNIX.

Man with sensational assumptions like that you should be a /. editor :-P

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

kdkirmse (801423) | about 7 years ago | (#20658449)

Transitioning to a system that is a faction of the size and cost is likely to allow redundant systems to be setup up a lot easier. Keeping some of the antiques operational that the government has is not an easy or cheap task.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 7 years ago | (#20658665)

If they're smart enough to make a backup plan, then they're not dumb enough to include it in the press release.

Re:Wait... only one base providing data refersh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20659031)

The EMP from a nuke detonated in the upper atmosphere is enough to disable all the GPS satellites you want, without having to hit any control sites. While I'm sure they have redundancy, considering that vulnerability, I'm not really sure why it would matter.

Uploading (2, Funny)

russotto (537200) | about 7 years ago | (#20657957)

with atomic clocks that simply playback whatever we upload into them at a precise rate. /blockquote We, kemosabe? Who is this "we". I don't know about you, but I've never uploaded anything to the GPS satellites. Though that would be kind of cool... does Garmin sell anything which would do that? :-) :-) :-)

Maybe My Imagination (2, Interesting)

gurutc (613652) | about 7 years ago | (#20657991)

We use GPS units to geocache, and accuracy has strangely seemed to have improved over the Summer. For those unfamiliar with GPS receiver tech, the newly available units use fast, parallel processing to greatly improve real-time sat processing. The new receiver chipsets have been problematic to use because they couldn't seem to get enough info and used echoed signals often in effort to increase accuracy. Maybe this update will put more downward bandwidth out there to help the new GPS receivers meet their potential.

Re:Maybe My Imagination (5, Informative)

gsfprez (27403) | about 7 years ago | (#20658181)

That accuracy seemed to have improved a number of individual times during the winter and summer is completely consistent with the way the transition practice runs and actual transition event took place.

Increased bandwidth: No, absoultely not in any way. Nothing is different parameter-wise with this transition from the user perspective. In fact, that was one of the hardest parts of the transition - to make the new system interact with the user segment (thru the Space segment.. aka: the satellites) in the exact same way as the old system.

I apologize for not being more specific than that... i also stated in my submission that i am extremely hesitant to say anything unless i'm 100% sure that its public knowledge.

So, if you think i'm beating around the bush, you're right. I'm not doing it for effect.. i'm doing it to keep my job and because security is paramount.. not just for US folks, but for everyone that uses GPS.. and i hear a few people are getting into it these days... kinda like CB radios and that Internet thing.

Re:Maybe My Imagination (2, Funny)

gurutc (613652) | about 7 years ago | (#20658331)

Well thank you for confirming my benevolent conspiracy theory! But would more Sats improve the new receivers' performance? Thanks for any info -

Re:Maybe My Imagination (1)

evangellydonut (203778) | about 7 years ago | (#20659943)

haha, i'm glad someone is getting their job done right to ensure that we have a chance to win GPS-3, lol

Re:Maybe My Imagination (1)

Arimus (198136) | about 7 years ago | (#20659547)

Echoed signals will not improve accuracy. An echoed or multipath signal will decrease it. GPS uses a precise time signal to calculate the transmission delay from satellite to receiver. Multipath signals have an additional delay factor, which while very slight can throw the accuracy off...

RDF-based space weapons (3, Funny)

mhall119 (1035984) | about 7 years ago | (#20658029)

It's important to remember that current GPS satellites are basically solar powered iPod shuffles with atomic clocks
It seems that the Air Force has figured out how to weaponize Steve Job's Reality Distortion Field. Now instead of threatening to turn the middle east into radioactive glass, we can threaten to turn it into shiny white plastic. Finally world domination that "Just Works".

i was edited and my points were lost.... (5, Informative)

gsfprez (27403) | about 7 years ago | (#20658079)

the current system is 70's era. It still uses 9-tracks, DASD units, and something called jovial that no one but old engineers with pants up to their chests have even heard of. The parts are freakish in their weight, their mechanical ways, and how unobtainable and unsupportable most everything about the old system is in 2007.

The new system is modern. You can buy the machines from Sun today online. The OS is still updated and supported. The parts are commonplace like SATA drives, USB DVD drives, Sun workstations, etc. Unix may not be some newfangled operating system, but i can line up 1000 unix-savvy 30 year old-ish engineers and sysadmins for every one 60 year old-ish engineer that understands how to work with the IBM mainframes and jovial.

The savings comes only to US taxpayers - because its going to be way easier to for "us" (US citizens) to pay for younger engineers that are not all about to retire and younger hardware and software that shouldn't have been retired 20 years ago. "We" (US citizens) can pay less to keep GPS going now. The rest of the world.. well, i can't help you with costs since you've never paid for this thing. I'd just say "thanks" and leave it at that.

the iPod shuffle reference is to the fact that all the shuffle does is get music uploaded into it and play it back... it does *nothing* else. Okay... with that example in your mind... that's the same basic thing that GPS satellites do... "we" (US citizens) upload them with what to playback, and they play it back - and they have a clock to make sure they play it back at the right speed.... they practically do nothing more than that.

yeah, my headline was shortend to save room, but in the end, i had to end-up retyping it here. I wish they would have simply said .... "click to read more"... but i wish for lots of shit... it doesn't make me sad.

Re:i was edited and my points were lost.... (3, Funny)

Stele (9443) | about 7 years ago | (#20658349)

The savings comes only to US taxpayers - because its going to be way easier to for "us" (US citizens) to pay for younger engineers that are not all about to retire and younger hardware and software that shouldn't have been retired 20 years ago. "We" (US citizens) can pay less to keep GPS going now.

Great! When can I expect my taxes to go down because of this?

it depends, citizen... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20658891)

on whether or not you make enough money to qualify for a tax cut.

Re:i was edited and my points were lost.... (1)

45mm (970995) | about 7 years ago | (#20659191)

There's no such thing as taxes going down. Merely savings redirected to another project.

Re:i was edited and my points were lost.... (4, Interesting)

Santheman (1158613) | about 7 years ago | (#20658389)

I was at "Schriever" (Falcon back then) from 1992 to 1994 and the GPS DASDs were being replaced. I know, as I was in the GPS module on a daily basis and the new drive enclosures were microscopic compared to the DASDs. Not sure where the GPS DASD references are coming from. The GPS module was the first to replace the DASDs as they had all the money. San

Re:i was edited and my points were lost.... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20658765)

I was curious,
          I've worked on mainframes in the last few years. IBM is very much in the business of updating and supporting them. There are new versions of z/OS and z/VM that are as up to date and much more feature rich and reliable than most other platform OS. I guess another point I would make is that there is no better clustering available for reliability and geographical disparity than SYSPLEX in IBM z/OS. We have CECs in US and UK, and elsewhere, and all run off the same clock, back each other up for availability, and have dynamic pathing to various disk and tape and virtual devices that are available to any user, on any part of the system at any time. The closest thing to sysplex may have been VAX clustering, and there still is no unix that approaches that (go ahead, say it ain't so, then let me see your resume of mainframe and VAX work).
          I can't see moving to unix unless it was either a loss of knowledge (retirement, etc.) or from a simple political gain perspective (look at me!! I "harvested" the legacy system and moved us to newer stuff!! I should get promoted!). Mainframes are very much updated and vital to computing today. Everyone has this erroneous idea that mainframes are all old, dusty machines that just run obscure code that some guy wrinte in '54... Wrong, the z in zSeries stands for ZERO-downtime. WE just did a complete processor and memroy upgrade on the fly into our US CECs last week (turned on 2 processors and added 2 gig of RAM). No downtime, no productivity loss, complete transparency to users. Please, find me a unix box that will do that. The perception that mainframes are rusting while the rest of the world moves on is a fallacy, and the idea that the machines cost too much for their function is simply a function of the great BSD argument... IF you want a driver for a $5 tape drive, then you have deemed your data worth $5. Reliability, scalability, and availability are really the givens in teh mainframe world that other vendors push so hard to tell you they have. The mainframe was literally designed for 99.999% uptime, I think that's about 3-7 minutes of downtime per year (if memory serves at all). I remember one of our older guys telling us about their shop in the early 90s that promised to fire the manager of their mainframe staff for 10 minutes of unplanned downtime in a year, and the manager felt that to be a reasonable reaction, he expected 3-5 minutes.
          The software is updated, the machines are cutting edge (look for zSeries on ibm.com), and the I/O systems are state of teh art. Mainframes ahve been doing dynamic pathing SAN for about 10-15 years (I believe). Some SANs are just coming into the director idea of path management, IBM has used SAN-like technology for quite some time, and allows for dual writes to seperate devices (PPRC) and to writing to non-volatile RAM in teh controller and returning the block on the channel with the write to RAM. I realize this is similar to current systems and SANs, but the redundancy and pathing are not things I find on streetcorners. Have a lookat the new mainframes, and some of tha articles posted here about linux uner z/VM, they are amazing machines...

Later,

FC

Re:i was edited and my points were lost.... (1)

Isaac-1 (233099) | about 7 years ago | (#20660307)

And how many times will this modern cheaper system have to be replaced in the next 30 years?

In related news... (0, Offtopic)

alta (1263) | about 7 years ago | (#20658203)

Over twelve hundred distressed calls to 911 service occured around the same time. A common thread is that they were all geeks screaming something about geocaching, their GPS isn't working and they are LOST!

Shame (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20658263)

Shame on Slashdot for giving the military wing of the capitalist imperialist hegemon space to trumpet their shiny new toy.

In these times, with the Resistance in Iraq scoring victory after victory over the imperialist American military, and Free Information Nation scoring victory after victory over the imperialist RIAA, it is clear that the imperialist Global Capitalist Hegemon is heaving its last gasps.

A new age is at hand. Now is not the time to be parroting the self-congratulatory cheerleading of the armed enforcers of imperialist power. Shame.

This post brought to you by Russ Feingold... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20659797)

..and paid for by Norman Hsu!

Re:Shame (3, Funny)

SteveMurphy (890510) | about 7 years ago | (#20659857)

And you're typing on a computer that was manufactured by your buddies in the "Resistance" in Iraq made out of rocks, dirt and camel shit, right?

It takes $800 million to replace a mainframe? (1)

spookymonster (238226) | about 7 years ago | (#20658441)

My company does turns the 'frames over every 18-24 months for around $2M. To me at least, it seems like $800M would've kept them on the cutting edge of z/Series tech for oh, say, 400 years?

Re:It takes $800 million to replace a mainframe? (4, Insightful)

PhxBlue (562201) | about 7 years ago | (#20658643)

It's more than just the mainframe ... in fact, that was probably the cheap part. The expensive part was developing software that:

  • Can communicate with each of the satellites currently on-orbit. We have GPS Block II, II-A, II-R, II-R(M), and (soon) II-F satellites in orbit, and each block speaks a slightly different language.
  • Transmits the same timing and navigation data that the satellites are used to getting from the old system. I don't know much about the technical aspects of that, but I know it's not easy.
  • Is easier to maintain. I don't know what language the new system was written in, but I imagine it's easier to support than code that was written 22 years ago.
  • Works without people noticing. This is the toughest part, and it's why the Space and Missile Systems Center commander said that this is like swapping out an engine while the car's driving down the highway at 65 mph. Think about how often in the past 15 years or so you've had to worry about whether or not you would have GPS.

A lot was on the line with this -- the Air Force has bombs and cargo pallets that rely on GPS for precision drops. The Army has a GPS-aided artillery system now. The financial sector uses the GPS timing signal for transaction management. A lot of the $800 million was no doubt an investment in testing the system so that, when it finally came online, the poop wouldn't hit the proverbial fan.

Hope the reliability is just as good! (4, Interesting)

ErichTheRed (39327) | about 7 years ago | (#20658599)

This is by no means a "keep the legacy crap" rant -- systems you can't buy parts for without an unlimited budget should be retired ASAP.

However, I wonder who's handling the conversion for them, or if the Air Force is doing it themselves. I've seen great legacy conversion projects, and been involved in some really awful ones. One problem is just a lack of people who know enough about the "old" system to implement the software in the "new" side. The other, and far worse one is when companies (not militaries, mind you) bring in contractors who know _nothing_ about the hidden surprises in the old system, or nothing about the actual real-world application the computer is supporting.

As long as the system's not running J2EE or outsourced to a bunch of "expert" consultants, I'm guessing we're fine. But there is one key thing that's lost on "modern" IT -- proven systems work. Just because something is new doesn't mean it will work better! This is why I'm glad they stuck with UNIX instead of Linux or Windows.

Side note, how much do you think IBM was charging to maintain that monster??

Re:Hope the reliability is just as good! (3, Interesting)

PhxBlue (562201) | about 7 years ago | (#20658761)

There were a lot of agencies involved. The GPS Wing at Los Angeles AFB was the procurement agency for the new system. Other federal agencies had to be involved with the process, because they're stakeholders -- the Department of Agriculture and the FAA, for example, have a vested interest in making sure GPS "just works."

The 2nd Space Operations Squadron and the 19th Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base are the primary operators of GPS. Within the squadrons, you have a wide variety of expertise -- airmen, government civilians, and contractors from the companies that developed both the new ground segment and the satellites that are on-station. Some of them are two-stripers just out of technical school ... some are contractors who've been in the business just as long as GPS itself.

Re:Hope the reliability is just as good! (1)

gsfprez (27403) | about 7 years ago | (#20660243)

the GPS experts are distinct from the computer system experts to a degree.

GPS is math and database. Period. That's all there is to it. Kalman filter and database, to be precise.

The GPS experts that know math have gone nowhere, and they are shit-in-your-pants scary smart and they still cost you $5000+/hr. There are new GPS experts that are being tended and watered and grown by the soon-to-retire GPS experts. I am constantly amazed at the time that they take not only to build up the next generation, but also to help doofuses like me understand the system. They are humble in a world that should put them in pantheons. The good news is, the new generation are thankfully as shit-in-your-pants scary smart as the first GPS generation was. They are the reason this all worked. I do not deserve to be in the same room as them.

Other projects i've worked on, i was the smarterest guy in the room - and it scared me because i thought we were all going to die due to that fact.

The computer system experts for the old system that know database are going to go away in the next few years and get a well deserved retirement and the new computer system experts are what is going to reduce costs and make the system better in the long run.

Both the old GPS experts that know the math and the old computer system experts that know databases were chest deep in the process of making the new system. That's not to say something here and there wont creep up - of course it will in a new system.

All of the experts are a combo of Boeing, Lockheed Martin (former IBMers) and Aerospace - just like the press release said.

If there are any hidden surprises (and of course there will be) - the question is not if there are, but how fast can they be solved. That's what will matter.

Since no one is complaining so far - and they've had over a day to do so - i'd say the team is functioning well.

You notice i've mentioned Sun - its because all the PR pictures that come out in the base paper in a few days will show operators behind big-ass Sun screens - and there's fsckall to be gained from that knowledge that will not be "leaked" when the pictures make it on the web.

What's funny isn't how much do you think IBM (now LM) was charging to maintain the system... but that they were not only maintaining the old system, but working on the new one at the same time!

Its not cheap - but i ask you - can you name the other globally available, centrally controlled, free to use resource on the planet and above it?

I can't either.

Re:Hope the reliability is just as good! (1)

hawk (1151) | about 7 years ago | (#20660313)

>However, I wonder who's handling the conversion for them,

After passing three cars driven into walls with one plane into the cliff in the distance, you'll know :)

hawk

What problem does this fix? (2, Interesting)

KC1P (907742) | about 7 years ago | (#20659101)

Great, they spent a ton of money so that -- what, GPS will *work*? It already did!

Upgrading from 1970s technology to Unix? Unix *is* from the 1970s! The whole reason most slashdotters think it's the whole world is because they grew up with it -- i.e. it's "always" been here. OK it's been updated a lot since the old days but so have IBM mainframes. DASDs are SCSI disks these days.

Sorry to rant, I'm just so sick of companies/governments pouring resources into replacing working systems just because the current crop of wet-behind-the-ears CS grads have been trained to snicker at the stuff that has been making everything work like clockwork all these years.

Re:What problem does this fix? (2, Interesting)

bteeter (25807) | about 7 years ago | (#20659473)

Yeah, OK.

So it works _now_ on the mainframe and that's great. What happens when it breaks? Who's going to fix it if no one has expertise on that dinosaur of a system anymore? Someone who charges a very, very high rate, no doubt, because their skills are exceedingly rare. Not to mention getting parts for it if hardware breaks.

Its the same scenario that we all deal with, with our home PC/Mac systems. Sure we could all surf the net with 10 year old Pentium PC's. But at some point the cost to:

-Find and patch old software
-Buy additional 4 GB hard drives when we run out of space
-Replace Optical drives
-Replace burnt out fans
-etc

Plus the cost of our wasted time waiting for old equipment. Eventually, maintaining the old exceeds the cost of purchasing new. This happens with almost every piece of equipment. Cars, tractors, computers, houses, clothes, shoes, etc.

We've made astounding progress in technology in the past 20+ years. Just because something old gets the job done doesn't mean we can't do the same thing a whole lot better/faster/cheaper today with current technology.

Re:What problem does this fix? (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | about 7 years ago | (#20660009)

Plus the cost of our wasted time waiting for old equipment. Eventually, maintaining the old exceeds the cost of purchasing new. This happens with almost every piece of equipment. Cars, tractors, computers, houses, clothes, shoes, etc.
QFT. I would have thought that anyone who knew anything about software development already knew about the "bathtub" effect.

You should have seen the old system (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about 7 years ago | (#20659223)

The previous system, installed at the Satellite Control Facility [209.165.152.119] , or "Blue Cube" (Onizuka AFB) in Sunnyvale, was physically huge. It was the Technology that Put Men On the Moon: Philco consoles, just like in Apollo Control.

Each time a satellite needed a trajectory adjustment, it took three computers and lots of people. The signal processing was done in something called an Emulated Buffer Controller, which was a transistorized device emulating a previous tube device. The real-time processing was done on one of several UNIVAC 490 series machines from the 1960s, and the trajectory computation was done on a CDC 3800 mainframe from the 1960s.

All this gear was interconnected through big manual patchboards, where, for each satellite pass, people plugged in cables to pass data from the ground station links to the buffer controller to the UNIVAC machine to the CDC machine to the console system.

This operation just drove the satellites, not the payload. The USAF, in a very Air Force way, makes a strong distinction between "driving the bus" and operating the payload. Anything that involved commanding the satellite to move or change orientation went through the Satellite Control Facility. Payloads (GPS, cameras, receivers, etc.) were controlled by the using agencies elsewhere, over separate data links.

The SCF's ground stations had (and still have) large (20 meter) steerable dishes that can communicate with their satellites over a low-bandwidth link regardless of the satellite's orientation, even if it's tumbling. There are about eight ground stations, spaced around the world, and they can track as well as communicate. Once the satellite is properly stabilized and oriented, the wide bandwidth directional links used by the payload come up. Those use smaller ground antennas, so as not to tie up the big tracking dishes.

This was finally phased out in the late 1980s, when control moved to Falcon AFB. Still, during the entire history of the Satellite Control Facility at the Blue Cube, no satellite was ever lost due to an operational error there. That's partly why upgrades were delayed.

The upgrades generally maintained the structure of the system, without doing a complete redesign. (A complete redesign was tried once, in the early 1980s. It flopped.)

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