Boeing: Vaho Rebasoo, CTO

Vaho Rebasoo, CTO for Computers and Network Operations at Boeing, talks about the new technologies that will improve aircraft and aerospace production, as well as innovative strategies such as RFID.

Boeing: Vaho Rebasoo, CTO Vaho Rebasoo, CTO for Computers and Network Operations at Boeing, talks about the new technologies that will improve aircraft and aerospace production, as well as innovative strategies such as RFID.

Q: What are some of the innovations that have happened over the years that have really transformed the way that aircraft are manufactured?
Rebasoo: Probably the biggest was with the triple 7, when we went into the all-digital design. And the digital design actually was only a part of the benefit, because once you had the digital design then you could start doing the digital mock-up and you could do digital testing and you could model your manufacturing processes all using that digital model of the airplane.

What are some of the other technology issues you're working on?
Rebasoo: Security would be another one of those. A large part of our job is to make access to the information easier. Everything you do to make access easier means that if somebody has somehow cracked that shell around your network. We have a notion that we refer to as "defense in depth" so that we're not going to be dependent just on our firewalls to protect our resources.

A multi-layered approach to security?
Rebasoo: Yes. Embed more of the security in the network and in the end systems and so forth. So that's one other technology, and one of the largest issues we're dealing with is the infrastructure reliability. We can't afford to have the computing resources have any glitches with them. So we're putting a lot of emphasis on reliability. A large part of our business actually is providing information to our customers and information to our suppliers. Well our customers have huge expectations. We actually have penalties built in; in some cases where we have to provide a certain reliability. Because if an airplane is stranded for lack of maintenance on it and they need our information to do that maintenance, then they've got to have that information available.

So as CTO you are setting the direction, maybe you can share some of the directions that you are setting these days.
Rebasoo: Well a large part of this direction is trying to integrate infrastructure in the software arena. One of the key things is we are doing work with mobility and wireless, that's a very hot technology area, that, as we discussed, has a lot of promise, in the data centre and server arena. One of the challenges is to take advantage of virtualisation technologies, where you can have multiple servers on one physical server.

Just to focus a little bit on the virtualisation and servers, do you have any idea how many servers you want to get to? If you have 10,000, or 30,000 servers, you want to get down to one third that number?
Rebasoo: Well we have over 10,000 servers and at least with the Windows type of servers, where there's a little more organisational applications probably, we expect to get reductions, based on industry trends, and some of our experience, we ought to get ten to one reductions in physical servers. When we move to the various Unix servers that we have, I don't think that that's a realistic goal, overall, because those are larger applications and make better use of the resources, but even there I would expect to get a three or five to one reduction. I haven't totally done the math, because we're just starting the journey, but I would expect that we would end up with 20 or 30 percent the number of physical servers.

On the networking side, are you pushing towards this notion of converged networks: voice, data, multimedia? So that, for example, on the factory floor, you can push live video to someone who's working on some part of the plane.
Rebasoo: Our intent is to do that. We've been moving fairly strongly toward Voice Over IP, Video Over IP. I think to some extent, the wireless devices, the cell phones, are going to help lead the charge, cause now you got video on cell phones, as well as voice and text types of things, and those same capabilities, we're expecting, we're going to have on the whole range of devices up to laptops and tablets and everything. My vision is that five or seven years from now, if you go in the factory, every employee is going to have some sort of mobile device, because all you need to do is save one trip back to where the information is, or one trip back to communicate with somebody, and you've proved, then, the cost of that device. The value of information is going to be that high, and the cost of that communications device is going to be that low. five years from now could be...

What do you see as the biggest challenges that Boeing has ahead on the technology front?
Rebasoo: Well, I think the biggest probably is in terms of technology. We have been working now for a few years at least, like a lot of other companies, on trying to do what you might refer to as application simplification or business simplification, or application rationalisation or something like that. Where we have several thousand applications. If you were to draw a picture of how they interact with each other, it would be a spider web of incredible density. It's hard to do any planning and moving into new technology or new capability when anything that you stick into that spider web has all of these different ramifications, and interactions with all these other applications that then have to change. We need to migrate toward a model that has less applications and the applications with more structure to them and better-defined interfaces, so that change can come more readily.

Have you defined that model yet?
Rebasoo: Well, I think parts of it are defined in parts of the company. I think one of the best areas we have is in the HR area, where we have a pretty good portal-based approach toward things, and there's a structure behind that.

Is that a service-oriented structure?
Rebasoo: It is. To logistics. Not strictly speaking Web services, but it's moving in that direction.