ISP Deploys 8-Gig FC in New Data Center

KPN needed to increase the speed of its storage network and became one of the first companies to move to 8-Gig Fibre Channel

April 25, 2009

4 Min Read
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Data growth is a concern in just about all organizations, but it's even more of an issue for Internet service providers and their data centers. In addition to an increasing volume of data, KPN, the largest communication service provider in the Netherlands, found itself with other emerging requirements, such as improving the redundancy of its operations. These business drivers eventually led the company to increase the speed of its storage network and become one of the first corporations relying on 8-Gig Fibre Channel products.

KPN has more than 38 million customers in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands using its mobile, wireless, Internet access, and television services. The company's ISP business unit accounts for 2.5 million of those customers and has its own data centers. This group, which relies on HP blade servers and storage systems to support its services, is responsible for 3 PB of information, and that volume has been growing by double digits annually.

To better serve its customers, the ISP examined its storage infrastructure. The volume of information it housed was increasing, and potential bottlenecks were emerging. Vendors, such as Microsoft, have been changing their product designs to support cloud-based services, so applications such as Exchange and SQL Server were sending and receiving more information.

In addition, reliability was becoming a more important consideration. "Because information is the foundation for many companies' business, we needed to add more redundancy to our storage systems to ensure that their important data would be available," says Herman Keijzer, an architect at KPN. To support such features, the company decided to build a new data center in Rotterdam, one that would complement its main center in Amsterdam, as well as serving as a backup site.

Since there was going to be a lot of information moving in the data center and between the companys sites, KPN examined upgrading its storage network infrastructure. “With server and storage systems becoming more powerful, we saw a lot more disk activity in our data center and on our network and needed to find a way to move information faster from point A to point B,” says Germar Braam, lead architect at KPN.Like many large corporations, the ISP had been using Fibre Channel for many years for its high-speed storage network and examined its next iteration, movement from 4-Gig Fibre Channel to 8-Gig Fibre Channel. When it began exploring the market in early 2008, the telecommunications service provider did not find many available products. "At the time, Brocade was the only switch vendor supporting 8-Gig Fibre Channel," says Keijzer.

So, the company decided to deploy a couple of Brocade DCX Backbones in its new Rotterdam data center in the summer of 2008. Since it was a new system, the company found a few minor bugs, so connecting the HP and Brocade products took a couple of days. "We had been used to troubleshooting problems with 4-Gig Fibre Channel connections and found the process with the higher-speed option to be quite similar," Keijzer says.

After quickly sifting through the issues, the new Fibre Channel network was up and running in Rotterdam. The company found the new version of Brocade's Fibre Channel management tools helpful because they included additional functions. The ISP can now identify top talkers (individuals or applications sending the most information) on the network and take steps to either curb their usage or provide them with additional bandwidth. In addition, new quality of service functions enable the company to make sure that sufficient bandwidth is available to important applications or customers.

With the 8-Gig Fibre Channel functions now running in Rotterdam, the next step is upgrading the Brocade switches in the Amsterdam data center, which should be completed later this year. This change, which will cost about $500,000, was justified by the company being better able to serve its customers.

Further down the road, the company may take a look at the newest storage networking technology, Fibre Channel over Ethernet -- but not like most companies. "We use Fibre Channel heavily in our data centers and have no need to be looking for another networking option there," says Keijzer. However, the company does understand that many of its customers rely on Ethernet and may use FCoE to deliver new services to them.InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis of the challenges around enterprise storage. Download the report here (registration required).

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