TSRI Telecommunications Aims for 99.999 Percent Reliability
By Mika Ono
How many times in a work day do you effortlessly pick up
the phone to make or receive a callfrom across the street,
across the country, or across the world? Phone service always
seems to be there when you need it.
"There is an expectation of reliability," says Tom Thistle,
The Scripps Research Institute's (TSRI) director of Telecommunications.
"In the business, we call it 'the five nines.' We aim for
telephone service to work 99.999 percent of the time."
For an institution the size and complexity of TSRI, achieving
this kind of reliability is no mean feat. It involves: o Designing,
selecting, purchasing, and installing telephone and data lines;
o Continually reviewing the reliability and cost-effectiveness
of the system; o Managing numerous databases, including those
containing phone numbers, pricing information, and calls made;
o Negotiating and implementing contracts with service and
equipment providers; o Communicating information and services
to TSRI scientists and staff; and o Trouble-shooting problems
on all levels.
The department's staff are organized to reflect these responsibilities.
Manager Randy Rosa, Technician Eric Hernandez, and Technician
Bob Zimmer make up the technical team that installs voice
and data lines. Dave Buchter and Jason Bowers are the analysts
who assess telecommunications needs with the input of the
scientists and staff involved. Database Manager Paul Savoie
oversees the databases. Administrative Assistant Cheryl Martel
is the point person for many communications with the larger
TSRI community, training new employees on the phone system
in addition to her administrative duties.
When Thistle started at TSRI in 1976, there was no Telecommunications
team. In fact, he began his tenure as the sole telecommunications
technician on campus and an employee of International Telephone
& Telegraph. He was hired by the institute in 1978. "I was
going to stay at TSRI two years then move on," he says. "Here
I am, almost 24 years later."
Over those two and a half decades, Thistle witnessed the
dramatic growth of the institute in which its population quintupled
and its physical facilities (including telecommunications)
expanded accordingly. This constant growth has kept Thistle
at the institute, still excited with his work.
"My favorite part of the job is opening new buildings,"
he comments. "It's great to be involved from the ground level,
anticipating what kind of science will go on in the building
and figuring out how best to accommodate it."
During his career at TSRI, Thistle also participated in
a revolution in the telecommunications field, in which the
industry was deregulated, data devices such as the personal
computer and the fax machine became commonplace, and new fiberoptic
The technical revolution in the field is far from over.
Thistle notes that the fields of telecommunications and that
of computing are becoming increasingly intertwined. In fact,
the standard telephones used on campuswhich Thistle
describes as "data devices"can work using an internet
protocol (IP) address, enabling them to run off the network
run by Research Computing. While it is not yet cost-effective
to hook up telephones in this way on a large scale, one day
it probably will be.
Telecommunications staff are always upgrading their skills
to keep up with the ever-changing demands of the field, focusing
much of the time on mastering new software. Staff are alert
to opportunities to turn new technology to their advantage.
One example of this is the Telecommunications web site which
provides those on campus with much useful information, including
how to use the voice mail system, submit installation or repair
requests, correct information listed in the TSRI directory,
obtain or cancel pager services, connect to data networks,
understand billing, and set up conference calls.
For more information on Telecommunications, log on to the
department's web site at http://www.scripps.edu/services/telecomm/
or pick up your phoneI mean, data deviceand dial
Tom Thistle, director of Telecommunications, has worked at
TSRI for almost 24 years. Photo
by Mika Ono.