Network Center Prepares for Spike During Political Conventions

By Erin Delmore

When politicians, reporters and activists descend on Cleveland and Philadelphia for this year’s conventions they’ll no doubt be tweeting and texting away. To handle it all is GNOC: The Global Network Operations Center, or AT&T’s “eyes” on the network.

“For the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, they’re going through and upgrading all of the LTE 4G sites, so that’s about 165. They’re also deploying eight distributive antenna systems across the city to make the experience of all the people visiting there much better,” said Chuck Kerschner, Senior Technical Director.

One more inside the convention center, seven in area hotels, all to support 50,000 extra tweeters and texters on July 17.

Same goes for the DNC in Philly, but they’ve gotten a head start. That area was upgraded for the Pope’s visit last September. But what about the events you can’t predict? The boards are a first look at what’s going on.

“When OJ took his long drive in LA, years ago, we saw voice traffic on the network drop, simply because peoples stopped calling and watched TV at that point in time. Another example would be Michael Jackson passing away. The amount of text messaging was huge during that period of time. Another example would be an earthquake that happened down in Washington, D.C. a couple years ago. We watched the calling patterns follow where that earthquake happened and saw a drop in traffic when it first occurred then a spiked shortly thereafter. So, it really is a living, breathing thing. It gives is a view of what people are doing at any given time,” Kerschner said.

It’s all on 141 high-def wall boards, three floors underground, spanning 98,000 square feet. Workers look at data traffic — where it’s normal, where it’s slow — and deploy resources to bring problem areas back up to speed.

“We’re talking about enormous amounts of data measured in petabytes, which is thousands of trillions of bites of data a day, about 117 thousand trillion bitesa day, it’s almost unfathomable. All of your texting, all of your surfing, all of the database work that’s done, corporate traffic, all of that,” said Visitor Program Manager for GNOC Steve Moser.

They say they’re looking at metadata — not the content of your communications.

“Think of it as the envelope information that surrounds a private letter you would give to the postman. Well in our world there’s something equivalent. So you’ve got electronic packets of data that represent your calls and text messages and all the things you do on the internet, but we’re looking at the addressing data that moves those packets from one place to another,” Moser said.

GNOC is up and running 24/7. For emergencies: a disaster recovery site 30 miles away. The team moved there when Hurricane Sandy struck and knocked out power, even the backup generator. The team was back online two hours later.