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Hurry up and wait

December 18, 2012 by Steve Modica

Steve ModicaMaybe you’ve heard that expression before.  “Hurry up and wait.” Military guys love to quote that.  It’s a reference to the military giving soldiers very important things to do, but then having them sit around idly because the people they are supposed to be doing them with aren’t ready.

Small Tree’s been a Prime Military Contractor for about six years now, and as the lead investigator on most of our projects, I’m no stranger to this.  I’ve waited for hours at bases (and at the Pentagon) for someone to come escort me to wherever it is I’m supposed to be.  You just aren’t allowed to walk into these places.

In one particular instance, I can remember the sheer terror of being on the other side of this equation.  Imagine what it’s like to be the person that all the soldiers are waiting for.

In our case, Jeff Perrault and I were at a huge military base helping to test some of our new routers.

The project was simple for us.  We built a little router that could connect to a couple of radios.  We enabled some basic forwarding and routing, got all the security and IP addresses setup, and poof, there’s data routing between radio networks. Our device was called “Chloe” and the original is sitting on my desk right now showing her battle scars.

The previous week of testing had gone wonderfully. Everything worked and it worked all day.  We were thinking about going home.  Today’s plan was to line up 200 people, put them in vehicles and run the full test.  They were using the same radios, the same routers and the same vehicles, just adding more people to the network. What could go wrong?

Cut to an earlier meeting. In this meeting, we were told of a previous day’s “Vehicle Summit” meeting where it was decided to rewire the vehicles.  They no longer wanted to use USB. USB was unreliable. They wanted to use Ethernet. The solution?  Put Ethernet dongles on our router and rewire the trucks.

My cell phone rang and it was one of the guys in the lead truck. He was sitting at the end of the road.  He was at the front of a column of 200 people.  “The router,” he told me, “is not routing.”  Jeff and I ran out of the building with our stuff and moved as quickly as we could to the front of the column.  We had laptops and wires hanging out as we typed and looked carefully to figure out what happened.  The column was sitting in the sun waiting….and watching us.

In this case, changing to Ethernet dongles messed up our configuration script, which really wanted all the ports to come up the same way each time.  We changed the MAC addresses so they matched up and everything started working. People in the column started seeing the little dots show up on their displays.

We learned something that day.  If we were going to create a router for the military that soldiers would deploy, in vehicles that could be rewired overnight, with no one around who knew how to use a laptop and serial port, it had to be zero configuration. Needless to say, our LEXII router that came out the following year did not require any user input. If you connect it, we’re going to route it whether you like it or not!

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