PCCA - Plains Cotton Cooperative Association Logo PCCA Commentator Magazine Masthead. Vol. 39, No. 1 | Spring/Summer 2006

The Technical side of PCCA Network Operations Center

Shawn Cox

Shawn Cox performs routine maintenance on PCCA’s server.

The communication systems of PCCA stay “up and running” due to the cooperative’s diligent Network Operations Center (NOC) staff. The center provides employees, gins, and PCCA’s farmer-owners the benefit of highly skilled, trained technicians with specific expertise in computer hardware, software, internet, network and security issues, and other aspects of technical support.

In addition, NOC prints checks, monitors communications systems for failed programs, creates e-mail accounts and optimizes the performance of all PCCA systems in order for programs to run faster and more efficiently. By performing their daily duties, NOC employees make it possible for the rest of PCCA’s staff to perform theirs.

In 2005, the Operations, Systems, and Network departments were merged to form the Network Operations Center (NOC).The three departments employed 25 full-time employees in 1996, but with the advent of new technology the NOC now is comprised of 12 employees with a combined work experience of more than 194 years. With several employees on-call at all times, the department is continuously on the alert for any problem that might arise.

“Our people are seasoned professionals who truly understand how our systems and hardware work, and more importantly, how they can and should work,” said Joe Tubb vice president of Information Systems. “NOC’s knowledgeable employees provide a personal level of service to gins, members and employees, and they constantly strive to keep things up and running as smoothly as possible.”

Network Operations

Left to Right: Mark Smith, Tu Ngo, and Charles Hutson.

Network Operations

NOC supports not only gin locations, but all computer equipment in PCCA’s Lubbock, Texas, office and the cooperative’s 14 offsite locations. The department is responsible for all communication devices: servers, computers, printers, hubs, switches, wireless equipment, modems, routers, telephones, fax machines, and cell phones.

There are 108 corporate computers in the Lubbock office alone. Ultimately, NOC is responsible for more than 1,500 different types of devices throughout PCCA’s network. These devices include 264 computers at gin locations, 48 Intermec wireless handheld radios, and printers at all gin and corporate locations.

In addition to repairs, installations and disconnections, the department handles incoming calls at PCCA’s help desk. One of the center’s goals is to answer the telephone and resolve any problem before the conversation has ended. However, if an answer cannot immediately be found, the NOC employee will open a job ticket assigning it to someone within the department who can resolve the problem. If necessary, Senior Network Control Technician Tu Ngo will schedule a time to dispatch one of PCCA’s technicians. Since May 1, 2005, NOC has documented 11,244 phone calls, handled 6,445 tickets, installed 127 computers, and disconnected 59 computers.

“This is truly remarkable considering the number of employees we have,” Radene Fuller, PCCA’s information systems manager said. “We are very fortunate to have such dedicated people.”

Systems Operations

Systems Operations

Left to Right: Debbie May, Heidi Hays, and Sue Warren.

The operation of all Internet services, applications, communications and security, PCCA’s 600 e-mail accounts, and all gin bookkeeping programs depend on the precise performance of 42 servers. Server and Storage Engineer Shawn Cox continually updates and monitors the servers while formulating plans to subvert security and virus threats to the system. Additionally, Cox ensures PCCA’s files are backed up three times daily and saved to tapes.

Each day, the tapes are taken to an offsite storage facility. If there was a serious emergency that damaged or destroyed PCCA’s Lubbock office, the backup tapes could be quickly retrieved from storage and taken to a disaster recovery facility located in Scottsdale, Ariz. In test runs conducted twice a year, NOC has demonstrated that PCCA’s systems could be up and running at the recovery facility within 24 hours of an emergency.

The Systems Operations division within NOC also is charged with creating all network accounts including e-mail, member access, fax, and Gin Services. The staff resets passwords and ensures authorized access to data. They also handle database administration to optimize program performance.

Operations Group

Left to Right: Shawn Cox, Jan Whitaker, and Mesa Lee.

Operations

From accounts payable to dividend and retirement checks, almost all checks distributed by PCCA are printed in NOC. The department also runs reports overnight and distributes them before many employees in Lubbock arrive for work in the morning.

“We’re the people behind the scenes that do highly visible things,” said Chris Bradley, operations supervisor. “We print important reports and make sure checks and statements are produced in a timely manner.”

Looking to the Future

Chris Bradley and Group

Left to Right: Chris Bradley, Juanita Gutierrez, and Riley Jernigan.

“Technology in our department is ever-changing, and we’ve been through many conversions,” Fuller explained. “We moved from the mainframe to Intel, from teletype devices to personal computers, from dot matrix printers to laser printers, and from 2,400 baud modem rates to high Internet speeds of up to 1.5 million bits per second.”

The department constantly is looking toward the future. NOC currently is hoping to implement IP telephony with video conferencing. This technology offers many advantages that could provide significant operational savings. IP telephony allows data, voice, and video to be transmitted over a single network infrastructure. The technology will permit a consolidation of communications and help lower infrastructure costs and management expenses. Fortunately, PCCA has the IP telephony capability in place as it can operate on the existing Ethernet network.

Radene Fuller

Radene Fuller, Information Systems Manager

Along the same lines, NOC now is utilizing the existing Ethernet structure for video conferencing.The technology enables a number of participants to collaborate and share information in Along the same lines, NOC now is utilizing the existing Ethernet structure for video conferencing. The technology enables a number of participants to collaborate and share information in real-time. The New York sales staff for PCCA’s Textile Division already has had a successful video conference with the Lubbock office and a company in the Dominican Republic. The technology also has been used to conference all three of PCCA’s warehouse locations with the Lubbock office for a quarterly meeting.

“The Network and Operations staff has changed dramatically in the last five years,” said Tubb. “This group is providing better service to the gins and employees than ever before despite the fact that the staff was cut by more than 50 percent. This is a result of a lot of hard work by conscientious people, and my hat is off to them,” he concluded.