InteropNet's Colossal Task

Would you fancy building a massive conference network in less than a week? Here's how

April 29, 2006

4 Min Read
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Think you're under pressure? Then spare a thought for the IT manager who has just four days to build a network capable of supporting more than 18,000 people, working with 24 different vendors and a permanent IT staff of just two people.

This is the Herculean task facing Glenn Evans, lead engineer at the Interop trade show, which kicks off at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas next week.

"Realistically, the biggest challenge is making the thing happen in a short period of time," he told Byte and Switch. "We start building the network on Tuesday, April 25th and the first deliverable is on Saturday 29th April, when registration starts."

Evans, who has worked on InteropNet for the past ten years, says that like many of his counterparts elsewhere in the IT industry, he has had to rethink his storage strategy this year.

"This is the first time that we have used a large storage array to support us," he explains, adding that the device will be used as a "holding repository" for video content. "We have never really had the need for it [before] -- this is the first year that we have attempted to stream video and grab content."The storage system, which has been loaned by IBM for the duration of the six-day show, is a RAID 5, disk-based RDM array with a 7-Tbyte capacity. Because this is uncharted territory, however, Evans is uncertain how much storage he actually needs. "We're not really sure," he says, adding that, as well as keynotes, lab sessions, and discussion events, he is also toying with offering a virtual tour of the Interop Network Operations Center (NOC) at the Mandalay Bay.

Other sites within the conference will also be generating video, according to Evans. "We have a number of security-style cameras around the network -- we will be grabbing content from those for the likes of Webcasting and also to keep an eye on things," he says.

The storage array is hooked up to three media servers from Sling Media and two HP DL320 web servers running Apache on Linux, which will be used to serve the content to the outside world.

A total of around 60 people are involved in building the show network, although only Evans and one other person are full-time Interop employees. Around a quarter of those involved are volunteers, and the remainder are loaned from vendors along with the kit.

But Evans says that suppliers who are traditionally at each others' throats manage to put their differences aside for the duration of the show. "There's little or no infighting," he explains, despite the fact that InteropNet relies on around two dozen different vendors, from big names like IBM and HP, to networking monitoring startup Gigamon.Security, however, is less straightforward, and Evans explains that there are typically "numerous" hacking attempts during the show, ranging from port scans to ping attacks when servers are bombarded with a large amount of packets.

In response, InteropNet takes a layered approach to security, using M7i routers loaned from Juniper to filter traffic at the edge of the network. Evans also liaises closely with the conference's Internet Service Providers for additional security.

Inside the network, InteropNet is using Juniper ISG 2000 devices to provide firewalls and intrusion protection and detection, as well as an Extreme Networks security device for "another layer of protection," according to Evans.

The exec would not reveal any more specific details about the show's security infrastructure, although he confirmed that the conference network deploys a "honeypot-style arrangement" to trap scams. Typically, a honeypot involves setting up deliberate vulnerable systems to capture attacks. Evans adds that he is not aware of any successful hacking attempts during his time working with InteropNet.

The engineer, however, was also cagey on the conference's disaster recovery strategy, although he confirmed that kit is split between the Mandalay Bay NOC, a co-location site in Vegas, and a third somewhere in Utah. "This means that if something goes wrong, we have always got a presence," he says.James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR)

  • Gigamon Systems LLC

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR)

  • Sling Media Inc.

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