In a hyper-competitive environment where speed is everything, an aging network infrastructure wasn’t going to cut it. That was the situation Jim Foley, the newly appointed CTO at NASCAR team Joe Gibbs Racing, faced early this year. Most of the HP equipment was no longer under warranty, while demands on the network grew as the team increased from three cars to four.
"I was very concerned about the age of the infrastructure we had in place," Foley said in an interview. "You wonder, 'What do we do if this switch goes down? It's X number of years old and not even made anymore.' It could be really disruptive to the business, and we can't have that."
High availability is critical for Joe Gibbs Racing, which runs three shifts in its production facility almost year-round, and is becoming more and more dependent on technology. Its operations include running aerodynamic simulations, 3D printing, and lots of video.
The team decided it was time to overhaul the network with an eye on aligning the IT department with the organization's mission. "At Joe Gibbs Racing, the idea is that everything has got to be the fastest and the best," Foley said. "We needed to make sure our network infrastructure was in line with the philosophy of the rest of the company."
Revving up the network
Joe Gibbs Racing partnered with Juniper Networks and IT solution provider Structured to upgrade the network at its Huntersville, N.C. headquarters using Juniper's MetaFabric architecture. The site has two main data facilities and eight additional independent data facilities, or wiring closets. The team deployed four Juniper QFX5100-48S 10 GbE data center switches with 48 SFP/SFP+ ports in its main facilities.
In the wiring closets, the company deployed 13 EX3300-48P switches, 10 EX4300-48P 1GbE switches, and two EX4300-48T switches. Foley said the EX switches are compact and don’t use a lot of power, which made them a good fit for tight spaces without room to add rack space.
JGR also uses Junos Space network management platform to manage its Juniper devices, which Foley described as a key part of the project that lets his staff sleep at night.
Before deploying the Juniper equipment, JGR rewired the entire facility with new fiber while leaving the old fiber in place; that allowed the company to get the Juniper devices set up and conduct testing before the big cutover. "We also ran redundant fiber across alternate routes within the facility to provide high availability in the event of a physical problem with the facility that might affect the fiber," Foley said.
(Image: Joe Gibbs Racing)
Then the IT team waited for one of the rare weekends when the team wasn't racing and burned the midnight oil while others took vacation to do the cutover, Foley said.
The first phase of the network upgrade focused just on JGR's main data facilities, which Foley said were the most concerning since they house the servers, ISP equipment, wireless controllers, SAN and phone system. The independent data facilities were cut over separately in a second phase about a month later.
Engineers from Juniper and Structured helped Foley's team with configurations and also to set up the Virtual Chassis technology, which allows up to 10 switches to operate and be managed as one, enabling a flattened network. The VC technology is available on most QFX and EX series switches.
Full speed ahead
So far, Foley is pleased with the new network. Old bottlenecks, including a big one sitting on the SAN, were fixed, and engineers remark on the faster network performance. With the wireless controllers connected to the Juniper switches, wireless speeds also have picked up. And some devices such as cameras are now maintaining their network connections and working.
Moreover, the flexibility of the Juniper network gives JGR the ability to expand, which is key as the company looks to move more into the cloud, Foley said. "You don't know how soon someone will say, 'I need more bandwidth,'" he said. "Not only did we get things up to the standard we wanted them, but we also don't need a crystal ball. We know we can grow with this."
The next project for JGR is future cloud and ISP access. Executives from companies that JGR has brought in to discuss future work have seen the possibilities, Foley said. "They say, 'You're hooked up. You can do this project easy,'" he said. "A lot of places they go into don't necessarily have open 10- and 40-gig SFPs ."
Early on, the team had considered Cisco for the network upgrade, but Juniper also offered a sponsorship agreement. "Now, Juniper is closely embedded with Joe Gibbs Racing. They have a vested interest in making sure we're successful, which will mean a lot more than if I just cut a check for Cisco. I'd just be another customer to them," Foley said.
After the racing season, JGR will address the infrastructure it sets up on the weekends at race tracks -- sort of like pop-up branch offices. The JGR crew arrives on Friday mornings and in short order must fire everything up, which operates at the track until Sunday night. Most of that equipment is more recently purchased, so it isn't as concerning as the old headquarters network, Foley said.