When I was sixteen, I was placed for a week inside one of the network operations centres of Manx Telecom, a large telecoms firm doing business in offshore web hosting, cellular telecoms and home broadband. Due to the size of the Isle of Man (~88,000), telcos face a very challenging market. Manx Telecom caters to the outside world by providing bulk SMS services using its CAMEL agreements with hundreds of other operators, VoIP systems, web hotel hosting and outsourced cloud computing, via IaaS.
In February of 2012, during my placement, I shadowed numerous engineers in a multitude of areas. My manager, Graham, was in charge of the cellular team, which oversaw a team managing SMS, call routing, packet routing, business development and access network support. Graham taught me first-hand about SS7 signalling; he even allowed me to borrow a very large handbook from one of the equipment vendors to study, providing a fascinating introduction into anything cellular I needed to know, be it PDP context setup, mobile DNS, SMS call flows or even legal interception.
I shadowed Graham and others into four data centres in my week placement, seeing what a core network DC looks like and what its auxiliary DCs do. Walking through every aisle, hot and cold, even daring to touch the rack of the mighty MSC (mobile switching centre) – pumping thousands of calls around Island and world – I had no shortage of questions to ask my manager.
On occasional cell site visits, I saw the transition of legacy equipment and the challenges it brings to large corporations who cannot outsource. The phrasal verb “going cloud” simply doesn’t exist when you are the cloud. I saw how physical security is implemented in facilities housing untold amounts of valuable equipment.
On a brief tour of other departments, such as IP Transit, I was given insight into the backbone of the network and the criticality of its operations. On a visit to the web hotel, I saw physical security at a whole new level.
The primary and most memorable task I had was restarting a card on the MSC and switching over a multitude of live calls to other cards on the MSC, to allow engineers to start maintenance work. This was done through UNIX commands.
Skills I gained
- Network architecture
- Data centre design
- Data centre security
- Data centre operations
- Power management
- Access network operations
- Cell site planning
- Web hotel design
- IP transit operations
- GSM operations
- UMTS operations