One of the major challenges in running Boeing's predominantly Cisco-based WAN and LAN infrastructures is managing IOS router and CatOS switch software across tens of thousands of network devices.

"There is a concentrated effort to limit the variations of Cisco IOSs and CatOS on the Boeing network, and we've made significant progress," says James Farricker, technical fellow and chief engineer of Boeing's IntraNet computing and network operations.

Managing IOS on routers became a messy task as Boeing began consolidating its IT assets when it bought Rockwell International in 1996 and McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Often, any two routers talking to each other could have had IOS versions several years apart with widely different feature sets. Farricker says the variations of IOS software made it hard to guarantee service levels and performance, but the company has rectified that situation.

Now Boeing's network test lab emulates all the company's network environments. "Instead of the classic canned approach to network architecture," with access, distribution and core, Boeing defines its network in technology tracks. These include:

- LAN switching (edge access).
- LAN routing (distribution, core).
- Metropolitan-area networks.
- WAN (national backbone).
- Partner services (extranet).
- Remote access services.

Any new IOS code is tested in Boeing's lab to ensure the software meets the requirements of any of the specific network layers where it will run. The code also is tested for interoperability with older IOS images.