Telecommunications firm AT&T is the largest provider of both mobile telephony and fixed telephony in the US, so when V3 was invited along for an exclusive look at what goes on inside its Global Network Operations Centre (GNOC) in New Jersey, we jumped at the chance.
Meandering through the suburban streets of Basking Ridge in New Jersey, and past estates of houses reminiscent of those seen in Hollywood blockbusters such as Home Alone, AT&T's GNOC sits in an industrial park far out in the middle of nowhere.
Entering the network's quarters, groups of buildings that appear to be built in the '70s are spaced far from one another and appear rather lifeless. This is also replicated inside; with the wide open space of the reception setting the scene for the rest of the tour.
Nevertheless, it's an impressive space. Clean lines are penetrated with minimalistic décor, and odd shrine-like tiles make up the floor of a seating area while we wait to be shown around.
The firm's network visitor programme manager, Steve Moser, greeted us in the reception to begin the tour and explained how AT&T's GNOC is one of the largest and most sophisticated command-and-control centre of its kind in the world.
Inside, customers and clients can interact with the technology that pushes AT&T advertising material and information, detailing how, on an average business day, the network carries over 33 petabytes of data.
The AT&T worldwide network also includes 232,798 Wi-Fi hotspots, 16.4 million broadband connections in service, and more than 105 million wireless customers, underlining the importance of the centre to the firm's day-to-day operations.
Passing through this area, Moser then took us through and welcomed us into a small theatre to show us a video about how AT&T is connected all aspects of the tech industry.
When the video was finished, the screen on which the video was displayed lifted up to reveal the network monitoring room. Here we saw the 141 screens on wall boards that make up what AT&T call a dashboard of individual gauges and warning lights.
Employees sitting at consoles below monitor these constantly to ensure that the AT&T network performs flawlessly. Here, all aspects of the network, including data and voice traffic flowing across AT&T's domestic and global networks, are monitored 24 hours a day.
Moser brought up a selection of the screens on a large blank wall to show us in detail what they represent. The team survey different aspects of network activity, network topography and news events.
At their consoles, each team member monitors a different segment or technology in the network using advanced diagnostic and management tools.
Moser explained that the GNOC staff can adjust the AT&T network's characteristics, temporarily increasing the available capacity to respond to an event or to a customer need. AT&T's GNOC also uses protective controls to stop traffic that could harm the network either because of volume-related congestion or malicious attacks.
After we had gawped at the impressive screens for a good hour or so, we were then taken out of the theatre and back to the entrance, via a small museum of glass cases on the way.
These hosted a variety of network cables that AT&T deployed across ocean floors over the years to provide telephony and internet services across the world, underlining its rich heritage in the North American telecoms market.
10 Dec 2012
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