Redstone makes logical shift to Gigabit Ethernet

Redstone makes logical shift to Gigabit Ethernet

'We massage the data and provide it to the organizations.'

Logistics support center upgrades network to increase speed and meet demand for high availability

By Richard W.Walker

GCN Staff

At the Army's Logistics Support Activity at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., the motto is 'Information is our deliverable product, useful information is our business.'

LOGSA, part of the Army Materiel Command, collects a vast array of data from a variety of logistics systems and tracks all Army maintenance activities, requisition and procurement transactions, and systems- and equipment-use figures, including vehicle mileage and registration records.

All of the raw data is then transformed into useful information for LOGSA customers.

'We're the data warehouse for the logistical data for all the Army for the Army Materiel Command,' said Jeffrey Reed, LAN team leader and a network engineer at LOGSA. 'AMC is in charge of all the hardware'tanks, boats, copters, missiles and everything else'that supports the warfighter.'

Here to provide

'We massage the data and provide it to organizations that use it for data analysis,' he said. 'And we also do some actual data analysis in-house here.'

As part of a move to a more distributed networking environment, Reed and his team recently upgraded LOGSA's network backbone to Gigabit Ethernet from Fiber Distributed Data Interface technology.

A primary driver in the change in network technology was the introduction of a new LOGSA database system, called the Logistics Integrated Database, Reed said.

'It basically provides the user a front-end [graphical user interface] to the data,' he said. 'The user can grab the data and put it on a graphic module on their PC, where they can graph the statistics and provide information in a more usable format than has been available before.'

When LOGSA officials began moving mission-critical logistical data and applications from an Amdahl Corp. mainframe managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency to Sun Microsystems Ultra Enterprise 6500 and 5000 servers running the new database on the LOGSA network, the system's reliability became a critical issue.

LOGSA's data had to be available at all times to customers around the world.

'When all the data was on the mainframe and controlled by DISA, we didn't have to worry about a 24-by-7 operation,' Reed said. 'Now that data is managed on our network, we have to provide services on a 24-by-7 basis. So reliability was much more important than it was in the past.'

Reed wasted no time in making a decision about a new LAN technology. Gigabit Ethernet was the way to go.

'Our FDDI backbone was fairly solid, but it did have some latency problems,' Reed said. 'One of the problems we had with FDDI was bridging between Ethernet at the desktop and the FDDI backbone. So we eliminated a lot of the legacy problems by going with straight Ethernet all the way.'

Moreover, he said, 'it was a very cost-effective solution as well. And it was attractive from the aspect that we could take advantage of our fiber infrastructure and also use that fiber infrastructure to add bandwidth as needed.'

Earlier this year, Reed's team installed a redundant Gigabit Ethernet core switch design using two Catalyst 6509 switches from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

Ready to operate

To ensure the system would remain operational if the primary core switch failed, the team installed dual-link Gigabit Ethernet network interface cards from SysKonnect Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

The NICs provided dual gigabit-speed connections to each of the enterprise servers, a mix of 11 HP-LX Pro servers from Hewlett-Packard Co. and PowerEdge 4100, 6100 and 6300 servers from Dell Computer Corp.

The SysKonnect NICs were key to the system's redundant design.

'What good would it do to have these wonderful, fail-safe core switches if I couldn't make the servers fail-safe as well?' Reed said. 'The SysKonnect solution was really attractive because I was able to put these network cards in there and run two separate connections to them. If one failed, it would kick over to the other box.'

The enterprise machines, running NetWare 4.11 from Novell Inc.'soon to be upgraded to NetWare 5.1'serve about 800 LOGSA users at Redstone Arsenal and about 50 staffers at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Tobyhanna, Pa. Users have T1 access to the network at Redstone via leased lines.

Since LOGSA's Gigabit Ethernet network became fully operational last spring, there have no major system failures.

'It's gone extremely well,' Reed said. 'It really takes networking to the next level. Prior to this, networks were a nice thing to have but, with no redundancy built in, it really hampered the mission-critical stuff. We're finding that it is very important that the system is running. You sleep a lot better at night.'

In addition to enhanced reliability, the network also has seen an improvement in server throughput'by about 25 percent in large file transfers.

That proved to be a pleasant surprise for Reed.

It's all good

'I really didn't expect that,' Reed said. 'I sold the system design concept strictly on reliability issues. It may have been the factor of just reducing the latency of the FDDI, but I really did see an improvement.'

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