When most people visualize the cloud, they see an ethereal, non-physical thing that connects their devices to vast amounts of computing power and nearly unlimited troves of data and information.
For Andrew Blum, a writer for Wired and author of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, that illusion was shattered on the day a squirrel chewed through the wire connecting his house to the internet. That rude reminder of the net’s physicality sparked an interest in the infrastructure that makes the internet and the cloud possible — the globe-spanning tangle of wires, cables, routers and data centers that most users take entirely for granted.
At the core of this physical network are fiber optic cables. Originally developed for endoscopes in the 1950s, to help doctors see inside the human body without performing surgery, fiber optic cables allow massive amounts of information to be shared at the speed of light (300,000 km / second) and, ultimately, make cloud computing possible.
Because each fiber optic cable is less than a tenth as thick as a human hair, an incredible degree of precision is required to maintain the fiber optic networks running in data centers, through cities and around the world.
AFL Telecommunications makes connections possible using fiber optics to integrate voice, data and video applications into specialized solutions. They work with clients (including many of the largest public cloud providers) to solve unique technology challenges and ensure their networks are operating smoothly.
With Every Inefficient Workflow Comes an Opportunity to Innovate
Every day, hundreds of AFL field technicians travel to private data centers, internet providers, telecommunications firms and utilities, to install, test and troubleshoot fiber optic networks. Traditionally, technicians used PCs and a USB connection, often spending days at the client site collecting data, compiling custom reports and testing and fixing cables.
Recognizing a market opportunity, AFL set out to build a mobile solution that would streamline the entire fiber optic cable testing process. AFL engaged CTP to lead the design and development of a new generation of cloud-native testing software.
Following CTP’s iterative design and development process, CTP and AFL engineering teams first created a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to demonstrate business value, and prioritize features.
After a successful MVP, the CTP team completed the production-ready software. Called aeRos, the application provides a state-of-the-art fiber testing platform that facilitates instantaneous data transfer between devices, while working simultaneously with AFL’s legacy hardware and testing tools.
“CTP helped us accelerate our new product development into mobile and cloud applications. The team was flexible, knowledgeable and extremely effective at helping us achieve business results.”
– DANE KRAMPITZ, ENGINEERING DIRECTOR, AFL
Empowering Users & Saving Time
Running on a tablet, the new platform simplifies coordination between AFL’s headquarters and field technicians by providing remote project set up, automatic data collection and reporting, as well as the real-time job monitoring that is independent of technology or location. Users can preconfigure instrumentation setup and automatically collect data for reports remotely, decreasing on-site manual labor and margin for error. Inspection cameras take images at both ends of the cable to monitor and send alerts when fiber is damaged or needs repair. With real-time monitoring, bluetooth instrumentation and Wi-Fi or LTE, supervisors can also observe their technicians’ progress to ensure they are collecting data that meets industry standards.
Built on Google Cloud Platform
The decision to host AFL’s application in the cloud, rather than in existing data centers, was largely due to the collaboration capabilities the cloud provides. AFL needed a solution that would allow contractors and other third parties to access and upload data from their own devices, outside a single organization’s firewall. By integrating identity access management, each user has secure access to their own project portal and workflow.
As AFL expands its presence around the world, global autoscaling capabilities are also vital to the platform’s success. A combination of Google App Engine’s Standard Java 8 runtime and Flexible Environment provides the agility, scalability and prepackaged technology that will help AFL streamline its current and future development efforts. AFL also leverages Google Cloud Platform’s Cloud Storage, BigQuery and DataStore for rapid global deployments.
Managing Ongoing Operations & Development
It was important that AFL partner with an organization that would minimize internal network operations once the application was deployed. “I was really interested in looking outside of the company and having someone else maintain and support the servers” says Dane Krampitz, Engineering Director, Test & Inspection Division, at AFL. “With CTP and Google App Engine, a lot of things are done for you, and that’s just a level of work that we didn’t want to be the experts in.”
AFL leverages CTP’s managed services capabilities for ongoing application support that includes engineering and development, application monitoring and data integration. CTP is currently working with Xamarin to develop cross platform mobile functionality for iOS and Android devices.
The Future is Bright
As the aeRos platform gains traction in the market, new business opportunities are emerging outside of AFL’s existing client base. Since completing the MVP, AFL has added two new tools to the platform – one such tool collects data from a Optical time-domain reflectometer and makes it available for reporting. Telco companies have expressed interest in integrating this workflow into their own operational systems through licensing and third-party mobile applications. Dane is excited for the growth ahead. “We have more opportunities than we can implement right now. Part of the challenge now is just picking wisely.”