Alumni Article: Sanchari Biswas talks about her work at the Global Network Operations Center of United Airlines

About the Author: Sanchari Biswas is a Network Analyst at the Global Network Operations Center of United Airlines and MS Telecommunications alumnus from the University of Maryland.

 After completing my undergrad in Electronics & Communications Engineering back in India, I had joined Tata Consultancy Services as a Mainframe developer and worked for a couple of months, finally deciding to give in to my calling and join the prestigious Telecommunications program at the University of Maryland.

I completed my MS in Telecommunications, enrolling in courses specializing in Networking. I had worked in the Juniper Lab under the guidance of Dr. Zoltan Safar. Fortunately enough for me, all of my on-campus jobs were significant too.

I worked as a Teaching Assistant to Dr. Kazim Ruhi and as a Student Network Analyst for Dr. Ronald Zeigler at the Nyumburu Cultural Center. Furthermore, I had joined TSAN as the Director of Student Affairs and had held quite a few events successfully.

After graduation, completing my CCNA certification, and a number of interviews from firms such as Comcast and Hughes, I chose to join United Airlines at their Operations Center in Mount Prospect Illinois as a Network Analyst.

United Airlines merged with Continental Airlines in May 2010. At present, there are over 65000 network devices, which include Cisco, Juniper, Aruba routers and switches, Cisco ASA firewalls, Aruba access points, F5 load balancers among several others. I will give a brief overview of the most significant devices and platforms that I use.

Cisco, Juniper and Aruba routers: Mostly installation, configuration, maintenance and security of these devices. For security, we use TACACS, in which a main server holds all the different access criteria for the users. This server links up to all the devices thus granting access only to authorized users to proper levels. We are always in touch with the former companies regarding their latest ventures and how the newest devices can benefit our network performance.

Cisco and Aruba Wireless Access Points: Aruba is mostly used for their versatile Wireless devices. In terms of OS, Cisco and Aruba have the similar processors and commands, but they differ in the case that Aruba Wireless APs are somewhat more versatile. Logging into these Wireless APs also tell us about their environment, health or even power strength. Drawing out placements for wireless APs bring in different considerations such as obstacles, human interferences, water bodies and other such criteria.

Cisco Firewalls: My work mostly deals with installing the firewalls and implementing the routes to allow or to block according to the network layout. For this, the most important knowledge is that of the network blueprint- to thoroughly understand what is necessary and how the existing network functions and what to tweak. Of course, all the routers or layer 3 switches can in themselves be implemented with firewalls, but having dedicated firewall devices not only proves to be more secure and multipurpose, but for a large number of rules and manipulations, is sometimes the only way.

Riverbed Steelhead: These are WAN optimizers. Often, in dedicated or shared WAN circuits, many layer 5 applications push to and fro redundant data. These applications are often termed as “Chatty applications”. Many a times, these applications cause latency in the network. Steelheads function at layers 1, 3 and 5 to determine these chatty applications and optimize them, thus getting rid of any unnecessary latency in the network.

Apart from these, we use a variety of network monitoring tools, the most basic of which uses SNMP traps to monitor the health and status of all the devices associated within the organization. Others include tools for BGP pathway selection and optimizations, to monitor device temperatures and power supplies, and many other controlling factors.

Natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes pose challenges to both our wired and wireless networks. But overcoming the problems and making more resilient plans also includes some of the goals in my position.

I hope this helps you in some way in your upcoming journey into the Telecommunications world. I wish you all the very best in your endeavors.