Apr 07 2011

Why 10 Gig-E Makes Sense

Colleges deploy 10 Gigabit Ethernet to support bandwidth-intensive video applications, university research and mainstream business apps.

Colleges deploy 10 Gigabit Ethernet to support bandwidth-intensive video applications, university research and mainstream business apps.

May 2011 E-newsletter

Surviving a Total Upgrade

Why 10 Gig-E Makes Sense

Get Ready for the Cloud

Cisco's Small-Office Switch

Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., is several months into deploying a new, high-speed network based on 10 Gigabit Ethernet that binds together all of its facilities on campus and in two data centers. The new network will support the university's bandwidth-hungry video applications, compute-intensive research and a virtualized data center infrastructure for Purdue's SAP enterprise resource planning system.  

Similarly, for SUNY Old Westbury on Long Island, N.Y., 10 Gig-E eases the loads from IP security cameras scattered throughout the campus and supports virtual machines in its data center.

And at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, S.C., 10 Gig-E has amped up the networking capacity in CSU's data center, slashing backup times and supporting new virtual servers as part of an infrastructure consolidation initiative.

Universities and colleges across the country are beginning to implement 10 Gig-E switching in their data centers. Some are even expanding it throughout their campuses. The reasons are varied, but Purdue's Scott Ksander, executive director for IT networks and security and chief information security officer, chalks it up to a focus on data.

“I like to paraphrase James Carville, back when he was Bill Clinton's campaign strategist and said, ‘It's the economy, stupid.' My phrase is, ‘it's the data, stupid,'” Ksander says.

“But seriously, computing power is no longer the interesting story,” he continues. “We used to talk about the gigahertz of our computer processors, but we don't care about that now. We have to face the challenge of movement of data and storage of data and what is going to be ‘fast enough.' We are currently seeing demands for standard applications in the 1 gigabit range, and that is only going to go up.”

A lot of organizations are upgrading their data center environments to aggregate traffic from multiple Gigabit Ethernet links connected to other switches, hypervisor machines or physical computers, according to Jeremy Littlejohn, president of consulting firm RISC Networks. Littlejohn works closely with CIOs and IT managers to help then optimize the reliability, scalability and performance of their entire IT infrastructures.

As for the benefits of 10 Gig-E, Littlejohn says organizations that upgrade expect to see faster backups and improved data traffic flows. Despite these clear benefits, Littlejohn cautions that organizations need to examine the root cause of their application performance/backup equation before they try to fix any networking issues with more bandwidth.

The Network's Edge

SUNY Old Westbury has nine OmniSwitch 9700 core switches from Alcatel-Lucent that are interconnected via dual 10 Gig-E connections for a 20 Gig-E backbone. Most edge switches are Gigabit Ethernet back to the core switches in the wiring closet, with a handful of high-performance closets operating at 10 Gig-E back to the core. The university began implementing 10 Gig-E about three years ago.

Marc Seybold, the university's CIO, says the IP security cameras at the network's edge were consuming just under 1 gigabit per 100 cameras. He says upgrading the existing backbone to 10 Gig-E was the most cost-effective solution for the camera deployment. The alternative would have been to build a parallel data network dedicated to the security cameras, but that was cost-prohibitive.

“All backbone connections are redundant links, so we effectively have a 20 Gig-E backbone,” Seybold explains. “This upgrade not only addressed the bandwidth demands of the camera system, but also essentially removed any performance limitations we had on the internal campus network.”

Bringing in 10 Gig-E to the data center was icing on the cake, Seybold says, adding that high availability from VMware almost demands 10 Gig-E connectivity for responsive performance. Now, SUNY Old Westbury has the bandwidth to run just about any application as long as it stays internal to the campus network, he adds.

CSU has implemented Brocade FastIron SX and FastIron GS switches, creating a 10 Gig-E backbone capable of increasing campus bandwidth, application availability and network performance. The university put FastIron SuperX 10 Gig-E switches in the core that serves the faculty, staff, computer labs and various desktops for students.

The upgrade includes Brocade FastIron GS switches in the access layer and Brocade FastIron Edge X switches at the network edge. CSU also added 10 Gig-E cards to servers that could be upgraded, and switched out older servers that couldn't be upgraded to new ones that support 10 Gig-E. The university has also virtualized several of its servers.

CSU decided on the upgrade largely to reduce backups. “They were running almost 60 hours,” says Rusty Bruns, CIO. “If we started a backup on a Friday, we would still be running backups on Monday as people started to log in. And that is a huge problem because backups consume a big portion of bandwidth in the intranet and really slow things down.”

Since upgrading to 10 Gig-E switches, backup times have dropped 50 percent, down to 30 hours, and the network uptime is better than 99 percent. Bruns says these benefits, in turn, have reduced maintenance costs and freed up resources for other IT initiatives. “The return on investment is obvious, if nothing else for the 50 percent reduction” in backup time, Bruns says.

In Purdue's data centers, there's a 10 Gig-E network for research clusters and a 10 Gig-E network for the university's production ERP applications, e-mail and other systems. These have been in place for three years. More recently, Ksander and his team extended the 10 Gig-E out to the campus.

The estimated growth in enterprise data through 2013

SOURCE: Gartner

In the university's main network hub, there are 92 dedicated Cisco Catalyst 6504-E switches serving 92 of Purdue's larger buildings and four more Cisco Catalyst 6509-E switches that serve multiple, smaller buildings. There are about 1,000 Cisco Catalyst 3750-E edge switches that combine 10/100/1000 and Power over Ethernet configurations with 10 Gig-E uplinks.

The campus upgrade to 10 Gig-E, which took 18 months, also includes redundant 10 Gig-E network links from the hub out to all core campus buildings, as well as at least two 10 Gig-E links, if not more, between each of the data centers and the hub. The project also included upgrading the Wi-Fi infrastructure to 6,000 access points running 802.11n.

Ksander says the network refresh was critical. “We needed bigger, faster, beefier bandwidth to support the traffic,” he says. “We really have a lot of data demand and previously had 1 gigabit links that were completely saturated.”

10 Gig-E in a Nutshell

Why are more organizations deploying 10 Gigabit Ethernet in their data centers? They want to deliver bandwidth levels that can support ever-increasing data stores, server virtualization and data center consolidation.

10 Gig-E products are built to support such projects. For example, with virtualization, server utilization goes up. And with this increased utilization comes increased network bandwidth needs.

On the data consolidation front, 10 Gig-E can connect backbone switches and routers between data, storage and server networks. It also increases the bandwidth capacity for the backbone, reducing network latency between switches and routers. And because it's Ethernet, there's built-in plug-and-play with existing equipment, reducing administration and operating costs.

Finally, 10 Gig-E gives organizations a clear path to 40 Gig-E and 100 Gig-E, both of which will be vital for meeting the future bandwidth requirements that will likely come with cloud computing.