At Monday's city council meeting, I was explaining some of the vulnerabilities of our aging radio system, which was born in 1987. We have a number of components that are no longer manufactured, are now obsolete, but are still important to our system. They have names like IEA, GETC and IMC, but the one I choose as my example for the city council was the site manager, a computer.
Public safety radio systems have used computers to control major functions for decades now, and the site manager is one of several our system uses. The site manager controls various functions, chief among which is access: it decides which radios are able to operate on the system, and excludes those that are not authorized.
Our site manager is a DEC MicroVAX 3100-90. This model was released in 1993, the same year Sleepless in Seattle was released. It was installed in 1997, replacing an earlier VAX model. The manufacturer, DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) folded when it was acquired by Compaq in 1998, which also went away, acquired by Hewlett Packard in 2002.
The MicroVAX 3100-90 has a 72 MHz processor. My iPhone has a 1.3 GHz processor. Thus the processor in my phone is 18 times faster than the site manager. The MicroVAX has 128 MB of memory, compared to 1 GB for my phone. If the site manager were to fail, we would be scrambling to find a replacement. Could we quickly find a hardware platform upon which we could install the operating system and application software to take over the function?
During my testimony Monday, I told the council members that while they had been debating other issues on the agenda, I found a DEC MicroVAX 3100 for sale on eBay for $74.95. I wasn't joking. It was in the vintage computer section. My point was emphasize that we have stretched some of our public safety radio infrastructure a long, long way.