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InteropNet Tests Network Fabric Design and More

InteropNet, the production network for Interop Las Vegas, is testing and showcasing a variety of technologies, including a network fabric from Avaya and network configuration software from Tail-f Systems.

InteropNet has two goals: it provides the IT infrastructure for attendees and exhibitors at Interop, and it functions as a real-world lab to demonstrate emerging technologies and test the interoperability of different vendors' products.

As I worked with the InteropNet team to design and build the NOC, I had a few ideas I wanted to explore and concepts I wanted to demonstrate to attendees at both the Las Vegas and New York events.

My wish list started with a network fabric. A fabric creates a mesh to let traffic take the shortest path between switches without causing loops that could bring down the network. Ethan Banks argues for the relevance of fabric protocols such as TRILL and Shortest Path Bridging (SPB) as the networking industry begins the long migration to SDN.

I've also always wanted to be able to configure and control a multi-vendor network from a single platform, so that made the wish list too. Finally, I wanted to build and demonstrate network traffic visibility systems that could be of interest to the network designers across a number of vertical markets.

Here's how that wish list will play out in reality on the InteropNet production network.

On the fabric front, Avaya stepped forward to help us implement and demonstrate its Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA) system. Based on the IEEE 802.11aq SPB standard, Avaya's network fabric has greatly simplified the creation and operation of the network. We ran into some implementation hurdles, but to be honest I think they primarily came about because we were accustomed to traditional network design, rather than being a problem with the overall fabric concept.

The InteropNet team had numerous discussions with the Avaya engineers and gained an appreciation for the power and scalability of the technology. As we are still in the learning phase, we will measure its performance onsite and fine tune our design for the New York event later this year.

On multi-vendor configuration and control, Tail-f provided a demonstration of its Network Control System (NCS). Based on both NETCONF and OpenFlow, NCS is a software package that provides a single interface to manage the configuration of different vendors' network devices and services. It can also be used for alarm correlation. It has a service provisioning layer and an OpenFlow controller.

Typical use cases for NCS are to provision services in data centers and carrier and enterprise networks, and as a power tool for network configuration. It also provides a programmatic API for configuring the network.

We're using NCS to monitor configuration changes and keep track of devices. We're not using it for full network configuration tool at the Las Vegas event, but that might come later after we've tested it a little more and grown comfortable with the technology.

On the network visibility front, we've brought together a number of competing players in the market for a true interoperability demonstration. This demonstration gives us visibility across all links and for all traffic, both internally and externally across the InteropNet. This information will be fed to several network and application monitoring systems and presented to the InteropNet team and attendees.

The goal is to challenge the vendors to present the information in a manner that best meets the expectations of the team. This will no doubt result in the presentation formats being changed to suit particular viewpoints.

You can see InteropNet in action for yourself in our NOC on the expo floor at Interop. NOC tours are scheduled Wednesday May 8th and Thursday May 9th at 11:00, 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. We've also got InteropNet education classes (scroll down to find the days and times) being presented by the InteropNet team. These classes are available to all attendees. Attendees can talk to the experts and discuss the challenges they face back at the office, and learn how the InteropNet technologies can help them solve business problems.

Before the production NOC comes together in Las Vegas, gear and software are assembled and tested at the InteropNet Hot Stage. You can read about this year's Hot Stage for the Las Vegas show here, and see video here.

Glenn Evans, founder and CEO of Acrux Consulting, is the lead network engineer for the InteropNet project. He brings more than 25 years of systems and networking experience in both management and technical operations, including 15 years in the event space.

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