Wednesday, September 28, 2022

War... what is it good for? Well... actually... NOT nothing...

 Recently, we dropped our internet service through Cox, and switched to "Quantum" fiber to the home, from century link... and we absolutely love it. It's been infinitely more reliable, and MUCH faster, with much lower latency and jitter, than the service we were receiving from Cox.

There's a number of reasons for that of course... But there's one MAJOR factor, that anyone without either a defense communications background; network engineering or other telecom, or IT; or maybe another heavily data networking dependent business (or government/defense organization); may not be aware of, or understand.

... WAR ... 

Or rather the side impacts of it anyway.

This gets a little complicated... but I personally find it fascinating, and I'm guessing a lot of my friends and readers will at least find it interesting.

In addition to having a MUCH better managed network (still pretty badly managed, but much better than Cox, which is worse than anyone other than Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T), CenturyLink has a major regional peering point (with tier 1 backbone provider Level 3, who have been their majority owner since 2017), with a corresponding major colocated service footprint, about 30 miles away from us, in southeast Phoenix/north Tempe (around McDowell and 52nd street).

The biggest reason that Level 3 ...and many others... have big regional footprints in PHX, is that there is a major interstate fiber backbone hub, with multiple tier 1 peers, physically located immediately adjacent to the Papago Park Military Reservation (also located at McDowell and 52nd street). 

That location, is not a coincidence...

PPMR is about 500 acres (adjacent to the absolutely lovely 1500ish acre Papago Park... thus the name... Which was originally a federal reservation, but was officially sold to the city of Phoenix to be a municipal park, in 1959) smack dab in the middle of the crossroads of the major southwestern transportation and logistics routes... highways and rail lines... crossing east to west, and north to south 

PPMR is less than 5 miles from I-10 and 7 miles from the intersection of I-10 and I-17 (all good 4-8 lane wide routes that can take heavy trucks and armor), which connect relatively nearby to I-8 and I-40, and from there to I-5 and I-15 to the west/north, and I-25 to the east... Thus connecting directly to San Diego, Los Angeles and all of central, coastal, and northern California; Las Vegas and Salt Lake City; Albuquerque, Colorado Springs and Denver, all of Texas etc... etc... 

PPMR is also less than a mile from Union Pacifics Phoenix spur line connection to the UP east-west main line across the southern US (about 30 miles south), and less than five miles from the terminus of BNSFs mainly north-south spur line through central arizona, connecting to the BNSF east-west main line, roughly paralleling I-40 (about 120 miles north).

All of which make it a very good strategic location for a logistics hub. 

In addition to being the headquarter for the Arizona National Guard, and the Arizona Department of Emergency Management; PPMR serves as a regional logistics and communications hub for the DOD, FEMA, and other military and defense agencies. 

Most relevant to this discussion, PPMR is a major backup hub site, for the primary defense communications and intelligence hubs at Fort Huachuca AZ (home of Army NETCOM, and the Army Intelligence center, and "other" organizations), and Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, CO (home of the Space Systems and Space Operations commands, NORAD... and various "other" major critical clients, of defense communications and intelligence infrastructure and traffic). It's also a secondary backup hub for Creech AFB/Nellis AFB and their major client organizations (for example, most of the nations UAV fleet are controlled out of Creech), and the Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville Alabama (including its client facilities for the DOD, and NASA).... and it has been so, since about 1951. 

This means that the FedGov has been laying communications infrastructure through that spot for defense and government use, for about 70 years now. 

In 1973, ARPA decided it needed to have one of those newly developed fiber optic networks... 

...because in addition to greater bandwidth, fiber optics couldn't tapped, monitored, or disrupted as easily as radio links, or copper lines, in event of an invasion, or nuclear war)... 

...eventually contracting with Optelecom (in fact, they helped FOUND Optelecom in 1974, spun out of IBMs federal services business group, specifically to facilitate that project) and GTE (who ended up buying Sprint) to connect critical defense installations across the country. 

In the process, they laid major backbone fiber lines across the whole country... lots and lots of what we call dark fiber... mostly paralleling the major interstate transport arteries, and particularly major rail lines, in between critical defense installations. Again, not a coincidence... GTE contracted with Union Pacific, and what eventually became BNSF... 

...(through what was at the time, the Internal Networking and Telephony (INT) division of Southern Pacific Railways (SPR) wholly owned subsidiary, Southern Pacific Communications (SPC)... it was completely spun off in 1975 to become Sprint... Which most don't know, is actually an acronym for Southern Pacific Railways Internal Networking and Telephony)... lay MASSIVE amounts of both fiber, and copper, communication lines along their existing railway right-of-way networks (a long time standard practice in the telecoms industry, beginning with the original telegraph lines in the 1840s, and continued through the development of the long distance telephone network, all the way up through todays massive data networks).

Even very long haul telecoms lines need major relay and interconnection stations regionally. You can't just run a very long line directly from say, Los Angeles Air Force Base (where, just as an example, the worldwide GPS satellite network is commanded from) to Redstone Arsenal/NASA marshall space flight center, and then another directly from Vandenberg AFB (the USAF space launch center) to NASA Johnston Space Flight center in Houston, and another from LS-AFB to Peterson in Colorado Springs etc... etc...

...(LA-AFB by the way is technically in El Segundo... As it happens, a few hundred yards north from where farthest west spur of Union Pacifics, main east-west rail line, and the farthest west spur of BNSFs main east-west rail line, cross for the final time. In fact, the BNSF spur line actually runs THROUGH the LA-AFB property. 

Literally across the street on one side, is Equinix Los Angeles (and actually physically adjacent, are Northrup Grumman space and missile systems, and Raytheon space and missile systems). Just up the road (and the UP rail line) are Cogent and CoreSite (who are across the street from each other, in between LA-AFB and the railyard at the junction of I-5, I-10, and US-101); three of the largest internet communication exchange peering points, and tier 1 backbone providers serving the region (with three of the largest datacenters in the region). 

A few hundred yards up the other road towards LAX (which is also just a few hundred yards away), and clustered around LAX, are a bunch more datacenters and tier one providers.  

The other top providers facilities in the region... and most have multiple around the area... are mostly either within a few hundred yards of those locations; in a cluster in orange county near John wayne airport where the BNSF southbound spur lines terminate, and meet up with the UP main east west line, and the main spurs down to San Diego etc... ; or about 20 miles south down either that same BNSF spur, or a different UP spur,  terminating in the Port of Long Beach and San Pedro.

The comm lines that run along both sets of right of ways, terminate at a separated annex of Fort Macarthur. Fort MacArthur used to be the headquarters of missile defense and air defense commands for all of southern california, and the major regional hub for the Air Defense Command and Communications System, but has been closed down and turned into a city park, except for a small portion owned and operated by the USAF for "administrative purposes". One major reason the USAF still owns and maintains a facility at Fort MacArthur is because of the communications hub still located there, which acts as a secondary interconnect backup to LA-AFB.

From those two lines, and two interconnect points in SO-CAL (LA-AFB and Fort MacArthur), you then get two redundant paths north... the UP coastal line that runs north along US-101 and US-1 all the way up through the south and east bay; and the BNSF line that runs inland through the imperial valley, all the way up to Antioch and Concord, and back down into the east bay. 

...Oh, and the major federal defense communications hub for northern California is at Moffett Field... the location of NASA Ames research center, and up until 2010 the USAF Space Command facility at Sunnyvale Air Force Station/Onizuka Air Force Station. 

The first Federal Internet Exchange point was established in 1989 at NASA Ames, allowing different Tier 1 networking providers to connect to the ARPAnet.

This is why the area around Moffett field specifically, and through San Jose, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Fremont, and Hayward (rather than any other particular location around the Bay Area) became the early areas of highly concentrated commercial datacenters and network peering points, after the restriction of commercial use of the internet was reduced then lifted, from 1991-1993... They're all along the main union pacific right of way both coming up from Los Angeles, and coming down from Sacramento (the BNSF lines terminate in Oakland, and don't go further south. The UP lines continue north and)... and thus, theyre directly on the main tier 1 backbone connection routes, established by ARPA in the 70s. 

Post 2010, the functions of Onizuka AFS have been transferred to Vandenberg AFB... again, not coincidentally, the major Union Pacific rail line between the LA fiber hub, and the Bay Area fiber hub, literally runs directly THROUGH Vandenberg AFB)... 

... So back to Phoenix, and the problem of redundant, resilient connections across the country... 

logically, both for efficiency, and for redundancy and resiliency; as I said before the major digression above, you don't build a star shaped or hub and spoke network, you build a mesh network, with major regional hubs, all interconnected as much as possible, north, south, east, and west; so you're not bouncing back and forth across a continent, multiple times, to get data from say, LA to Colorado. 

If you're trying to connect military, NASA, and other government and defense installations in southern California, to others in NorCal, Colorado Springs, Houston Texas, Huntsville Alabama, and Cocoa Beach Florida; Arizona is the logical interconnection point along the east-west line from coast to coast, to go north, northeast, and east.... And it just so happens the rail line right of ways exist for you to lay redundant routes through two locations, and two passes through the mountains in California... One along the BNSF owned northern route parallel to I-40, and one along the Union Pacific owned route, south through Yuma. 

... And gee, guess what... that east-west UP mainline route happens to pass a score or so miles north of Fort Huachuca, and there's a southbound spur line that heads right by it... How convenient... 

... And gee, guess what... like I said above, the spur lines connecting the northern BNSF route, and the southern UP route, just happen to meet not far from Papago Park Military Reservation. 

Ok... So... it should be clear, how the defense establishment wanted to create a nuclear war resilient and redundant network of both fiber optics and copper... and why they used the railway right of ways to do it.

But there's one other way that the reason why these things are where they are is "war"... the U.S. Civil War specifically. 

A few years before the civil war, In order to give the railroad companies incentive to build rail networks across what was mostly vast empty country without cities or customers...

... east to west in between Kansas City (where the western railheads terminated at the time. Houston and Dallas were only just getting to be real cities then) and the west coast. Then north to south, between the cities on the coast, and between the few cities actually in "the west"... 

...the government passed a series of land grant acts. These act granted the railroads their right of ways, and ownership of the land around them, wherever they could lay track and connect it to a main line... With the provision, that the government could always use those lines and right of ways for defense purposes... These acts were MASSIVELY increased during the civil war, with additional contract incentives for specific strategically important rail lines to be built. 

This kicked off a huge railroad building boom, which didn't end until the late 1890s; during which, the major railroad companies built lines all throughout the still barely populated west, which would not have been profitable to build, if it were not for the land grants and incentives voted in during, and because of, the war. 

So, ever since then, government and defense communications lines, have generally been laid along railroad right of ways.

Oh... and why Papago specifically?

Well, in part it's because, as I said, its very convenient to both the rail lines, and the interstate highways in the region... and it was already a US military facility (it was established as a national guard facility in 1930, and was used as a POW camp in WW2).

But war and defense determined the location in one more, somewhat weirder way.

One of the requirements that ARPA and the rest of the DOD had for these network facilities, was that they be nuclear hardened, or otherwise resistant to a nuclear blast near by. Most of the time, this resulted in huge ugly concrete monolith buildings, but there were exceptions.

PPMR is one of those exceptions. There's a big antennae farm, and some low buildings, but no big concrete block thing.

As it happens, PPMR is situated partway up the side of a 2100 foot high mountain of solid granite... and the communications hub, is buried underneath it. 

That was judged by the defense establishment to be sufficient for any reasonable potential war scenario.

... And together, (along with generally lower cost of land and building here than most other areas) that's why the Phoenix metro area, has more dark fiber, more tier one backbone providers, more peering points, and more datacenter space; than any cities in America other than SF/SJC metro, LA metro, Denver Metro, DC metro, NYC metro, and BOS metro... And for that matter, it's why PHX, DEN, DFW, and HOU are the only cities in between the coasts to even be in the top ten lists.  They're all major backbone hubs, established by the fedgov, for defense purposes, along major rail lines, in between or with defense critical sites.

So, just as with the bay area and Moffet Field, that fiber backbone and peering concentration, is why there are a bunch of HUGE datacenters near Papago Peak Military reservation, or otherwise along the rail lines running nearby; including a couple of the biggest in the country, and what at the time it was built, was the biggest public commercial datacenter in the world...

...(meaning they lease and colo to anyone, rather than being owned and used by the government, or a single corporation like google or facebook. All of the very largest datacenters are either .gov or megacorps)... 

...It's also why you might have noticed there's a bunch of local endpoints for online game services, Content Delivery Networks, VOIP services, VPN services etc... in PHX, even though those companies aren't based in Phoenix, and may not have large userbases here. They're in one of the major peering points, or one of the many datacenters near the peering points.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

What the heck happened to my theme ???

 Somehow the theme... and thus the whole look and feel... of my blog (which, yes, though not very active is very much still a going concern)  has gone wonky. No idea why, but the colors, backgrounds, "texture"... the entire look and feel is borked.

Yes, I will figure it out and fix it soon... but GAWD do I hate dealing with theme and design issues in Blogger. In the mean time, gren, brown, and beige it is I guess.

UPPDATE: its only screwed up in dark mose.... Hmmm...