Army unit upgrades multigigabit backbone net

Bobby Jones checks out one of the database servers on the Army Acquisition Executive's newly accelerated, 4-Gbps network.

The office that gives IT support to the Army Acquisition Executive has built a superfast Gigabit Ethernet network to serve 50,000 remote users.

The Research, Development and Acquisition Sustainment Information System Activity near Radford, Va., upgraded to a 4-Gbps backbone last year and plans to accelerate to 8 Gbps.

'We're a service provider of sorts,' computer specialist Bobby Jones said. 'We have some very intensive database applications and a growing user base competing for bandwidth.'
In May 2001 the backbone started using BlackDiamond Gigabit Ethernet switches from Extreme Networks Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif. From a pair of 6808 switches with 96 Gigabit Ethernet ports, it moved up in November to two 6816 switches with 192 1-Gbps ports.

'We had always intended to go with the 6816, but Extreme hadn't shipped it' when the program started, Jones said. The higher port density will allow growth in services and in number of users, because 'we're adding new people all the time.'

The redundant chassis, designed for service providers, is finding favor with Army installations moving away from asynchronous transfer mode to Gigabit Ethernet, said Duncan Potter, Extreme's vice president of marketing.

The R&D office develops applications for Army research and acquisition functions, hosting them on its network. 'All our users are remote, over the Web,' Jones said. As more agencies want to host applications, the office is becoming more like an application service provider.

Apps include the Career Acquisition Personnel and Position Management Information System, a random password generator and downloadable screen savers. Applications and databases reside on clustered Sun Microsystems Sun Fire Midframe servers.

The traffic is steady, and files can be large. Before the upgrade, the network used two Fast Ethernet switches from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., linked by Cisco's Fast EtherChannel trunking technology.

'We were maxed out,' Jones said. 'The switch fabric probably could not have handled much more.'

Multiple redundancy

Because the new switches are the core of the network and not just components, multiple redundancy'up to four power supplies for the 6816, for example'was important.

The 2001 transition to the 6806 switches happened overnight in the middle of the week. 'We were up and running the next day with a minimum of problems,' Jones said.

The move to the larger 6816 switches likewise happened overnight. 'It was all night,' Jones said, 'but it was up and running.'

For daily backup, the office uses NetBackup from Veritas Software Corp. of Mountain View, Calif., which backs up servers to multiple tape libraries.

'We got a tremendous performance increase over the previous system,' Jones said. 'It works incredibly well and has taken a lot of work off the staff.'

With the new network and more than 60 midframe switches, Jones said, 'we're positioned to grow as needed.'

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