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Creation of the RMDCN

The Regional Association VI (RA VI), at its 11th session (Oslo, May 1994) decided to establish a Steering Group to proceed with the proposal for a new Regional Telecommunications Network, called RMDCN (Regional Meteorological Data Communications Network), designed to meet the new requirements in the GTS. The Steering Group took into account the legal and administrative framework, as well as the technical and financial aspects.

In 1997, the Steering Group recommended a Managed Data Network to meet the RA VI and ECMWF data communication requirements. The Steering Group further recommended that ECMWF be requested to lead and co-ordinate the procurement, implementation and operational monitoring of such a network for all RA VI Members. The ECMWF Invitation To Tender (ITT) for the RMDCN was issued in March 1998 and Equant was selected as the provider for the RMDCN. The Network proposed by Equant was based on their Frame Relay and X25 services, using TCP/IP as the transport protocol.

All the RMDCN Members were to be connected via an access line to the Equant in-country Frame Relay Point of Presence (POP). A fully managed Cisco Router and a backup for the access line were also included in the Equant service.

After the signature of the contract with Equant in December 1998, the first step was to know which WMO RA VI Members would take part in the Initial Deployment of the network . On 1 April 1999, the deadline to be included in the Initial Deployment, the membership of RMDCN comprised 31 countries.

To validate the technical solution proposed by Equant and the performance of their Frame Relay service a pilot network was set up in April 1999. This pilot network was a prototype of the new network architecture provided by Equant and involved ECMWF and two meteorological services, the Instituto de Meteorologia (Lisbon) and Meteo-France (Toulouse).

During June and July 1999 ECMWF ran a set of tests to verify the planned configuration, the connectivity and the performance of the network. Initially, the tests showed routing problems and variability in the sustained network performance. These problems were resolved by a new router configuration provided by Equant in August 1999.

This period of installation and tests was also very useful to identify logistical problems and to establish efficient communications and working methods (such as exchange of information with Equant, order procedures, technical details), as necessary at the start of any major project.

Initial Deployment

The process of arranging the connection of the remaining 29 NMCs to the nearest Equant Point of Presence (POP) started in parallel. Getting all the technical details of the NMC (National Meteorological Centre) connections in preparation for the configuration of the routers took longer than anticipated. Logistical problems within Equant in the ordering process for the Leased Lines, the installation of cold standby routers and the supply of the ISDN backups led to new delays in the project. Problems in the configuration of the Frame Relay backbone and difficulties for ECMWF in communicating with some participants delayed the start of the Initial Deployment acceptance process.

In order to improve communication with the participating countries, ECMWF set up a web site to provide information on the progress of the project. Configuration details, contact details, documents on the acceptance tests and information on anything that might be of interest for the project were made available to the RMDCN community.

The implementation of the IP design of the network also proved to be a very time consuming task. During the months of August and September 1999 the ECMWF project team worked closely with the Equant technical team to define and implement a suitable IP routing architecture for the RMDCN. At the beginning of October 1999, Equant implemented the final IP routing scheme and during the second week of October ECMWF and some RTHs (Regional Telecommunications Hubs) checked the delivered network to make sure that the configuration of the routers was correct.

Acceptance of the Initial Deployment

Finally, on 18 October 1999, the User Site Acceptance of the Initial Deployment started. Due to third party delays and regulatory authorities' issues, Equant could not implement connections for Poland and the Syrian Arabic Republic in time for the acceptance of the Initial Deployment. This left 29 countries and ECMWF to accept their connection to the RMDCN.

The first step of the User Site Acceptance was to verify the correct delivery and installation of the equipment for each NMC. Then, all the participating NMCs were asked to complete the connectivity and performance tests developed by ECMWF for each protocol and each individual PVC they had with other NMCs. They also had to verify the functionality of their backup configuration.

Again, this phase was more difficult than expected. A large number of technical problems were discovered and resolved during this stage of the acceptance process. As a focal point for the RMDCN, the ECMWF project team dealt with the various problems encountered and provided the status of the User Site Acceptance via the RMDCN web site on a daily basis. This required substantial manpower.

The second stage of the acceptance, the Reliability Acceptance test, started on 29 November 1999. All the participants in the Initial Deployment, except Poland and the Syrian Arab republic, began a 30-day period of Reliability Acceptance. According to the acceptance criteria defined in the RMDCN contract, 90% of PVCs had to achieve 99.5% of service availability and the remaining PVCs had to achieve 98.5% of service availability, over a 30-day period. All the NMCs were asked to operate the links sufficiently to give assurance of good network service and good response times from the Equant Help Desk in the resolution of problems.

During the test period, NMCs and ECMWF sent test data or copies of the operational data over the network. ECMWF monitored the network and the Trouble Tickets opened by the participants. Most PVCs achieved the contracted Service Availability over the period without any problems. For a few countries the test had to be restarted.

By early February 2000 the last major hurdles to be overcome were the provision of the backup in some countries and the lack of documentation. By early March Equant had resolved all the problems preventing the acceptance of the Initial Deployment and on 15 March 2000, 15 months after the signature of the contract with Equant, the network was finally accepted.

The deployment of the RMDCN in WMO Region VI was a good opportunity for some countries to significantly upgrade their GTS connections. NMCs have also taken the opportunity to migrate their GTS applications from X25 to the TCP/IP protocol during the implementation of this managed network. TCP/IP is now the standard protocol for the RMDCN.

The RMDCN introduced new opportunities for the RA VI community by modernising the old GTS infrastructure. The RA VI data communications network is now more flexible. New connections or changes to the existing architecture can be easily introduced. In many cases migration to the RMDCN has involved cost savings for the participants.

RMDCN beyond RA-VI

On 27 June 2002 the RMDCN contract was amended to allow Countries outside RA-VI to join the network.

RMDCN Migration to IPVPN MPLS

The 2004 bi-annual contract review resulted in an offer from EQUANT to migrate to an MPLS based network. This proposal was approved by ECMWF council in December 2004. The other WMO members connected to the RMDCN also accepted the proposal for the migration. An amendment of the RMDCN contract, specifying the new service levels and the migration plan, was signed in May 2006. Immediately afterwards the implementation of the migration of the RMDCN to an IPVPN MPLS technology started. The new network was being rolled out in parallel to the existing network and on 16 April 2007 the acceptance phase started. After two months of extensive testing the new network was finally accepted on 18 June 2007.

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