Case Study: SMC Networks and the University Of Essex

When the University of Essex needed to upgrade its network, it chose a Gigabit Ethernet solution from SMC Networks

When the University of Essex needed to upgrade its network, it chose a Gigabit Ethernet solution from SMC Networks

Perhaps more than any other, the higher education market provides the starkest example of how the networking industry has expanded over the past decade. Anyone who worked for or graduated from a university over five years ago will testify that Internet usage amongst students was anything but widespread at the time, and that handwritten essays were often submitted due to a chronic lack of shared computer resources.

Today, the situation could hardly be more different. The Web, in particular, has driven the use of the Internet and local area networks as genuine education resources, so that the number of users logging in at university campuses has exploded over the last few years.

No one could be more aware of the phenomenon than Brian Wilby, the Deputy Director of computer services at the University of Essex. Having worked at the department for over 20 years, and presided over the network for 16 of those years, Wilby is acutely aware that the rate of change, over the past three years in particular, has placed unprecedented demands on the hardware underpinning the University's computer resources.

Wilby picks up the story: "One of the principal challenges facing network managers in today's universities is the escalation in bandwidth requirements over the campus site. To meet that challenge, it has been necessary, in our case, to gradually install a new network that meets this demand, but also has the manageability and scalability to ensure that our upgrade path is smooth and our future needs are catered for."

Prior to the upgrade program, the University was running an FDDI Fibre Backbone that connected to six local FDDI rings covering the various administrative and academic departments at the University. The problem faced was that the FDDI rings could not be scaled, so in the summer of 1999 the decision was taken to install a new network based on Gigabit Ethernet.

"We were looking for a reliable 10/100 switch that had a Gigabit uplink facility, but, as is often the case in these situations, we didn't have the immediate budget to make the uplink active on all of them from day one," Wilby continues. "From that perspective it was important that we had a product that had the uplink facility, but was also capable of carrying the legacy products through to the next stage of the upgrade."

After researching the market, the University decided upon the 6700 series of modular switches from SMC Networks - a specialist provider of departmental and workgroup networking solutions.

"We chose the SMC6700s because of the price, performance and the Gigabit uplink capability. We now have over 30 installed around the "rim" of the campus network, and have reached the stage where we are ready to install the Gigabit "backbone" and make all of the Gigabit uplinks active by Autumn 2000. This will mean that three quarters of the user population will be on Gigabit by the Autumn term. We are also currently evaluating the new upgraded SMC6900 series of switches, and are eagerly awaiting the chance to evaluate SMC's new eight port Gigabit Switch with a view to further expanding our Gigabit capacity."

Wilby concludes: "What has also been important throughout this process is the relationship that we have had with both the sales and technical support staff at SMC. It is clear that SMC is focused on what we are trying to achieve here, and has the expertise in scalable local area solutions that meet the needs of the higher education market."

Technical background

The existing University of Essex network is currently based on a DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) FDDI Gigaswitch and six FDDI rings. Across the campus these include:

Departmental ring

Labs ring

Administration ring

Student Accommodation ring

Research ring

Computing service ring.

This FDDI network supports approximately 3,800 network connections. Whilst some legacy network exists (mainly 10Base2, but including some 10BaseT hubs), much of the network is based on switched 10BaseT and 10/100 switched products. This includes the SMC 10/100 switches with Gigabit uplink facilities that are now installed on the "rim" of the network.

The next stage of the project is to purchase a number of Gigabit Ethernet routing switch products to commence the development of a Gigabit Ethernet campus network. The existing network will be migrated to a Gigabit Ethernet backbone in stages, and will include a change of IP address structure to permit the introduction of VLANs and enable the development of improved security and management facilities.

Phase one of the rollout, prior to the deployment of the new Gigabit backbone, will be to assemble a prototype network using new Gigabit Ethernet switch products. This will allow the department to perform VLAN configuration and other protocol support, QoS priority queuing and IGMP multi-cast filtering. The new SMC 6900 family of switches is being evaluated to be part of this development.

At completion of the project the campus will operate a Gigabit Ethernet based network across all departments and sections of the University (excluding the student accommodation) following the introduction of Gigabit Ethernet Switch products designed for backbone applications. The Computing Service department at Essex will be evaluating SMC's new TigerSwitch 1000 to concentrate Gigabit rim switches back to the Gigabit Backbone.

Gigabit Ethernet solutions from SMC Networks

The SMC 6912M/24M TigerSwitch series. The SMC 6912M/24M TigerSwitches are new generation stackable switches that support Ethernet and Fast Ethernet networks as well as having a Gigabit uplink. Respectively, they offer 12 and 24 fixed auto-negotiating Ethernet 10/100 ports as well as three expansion slots for optional modules, including Gigabit uplink and 100BASE-FX. Up to four of the switches can be stacked together, supporting a maximum of 96 Ethernet and Fast Ethernet ports plus four Gigabit up-links.

They are aimed at users who require high-density Ethernet, Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet switching in the wiring closet, Gigabit uplinks to their backbone switches or need advance features, such as stacking, flow control and resilient links.

The SMC6912M/24M TigerSwitches come with advanced features such as port-based and tagged VLANs, support for automatic GVRP VLAN registration that provides traffic security and efficient use of network bandwidth. QoS priority queuing ensures minimum delay for real-time multimedia data across the network while flow control ensures zero packet loss. The TigerSwitches also support four sets of link aggregation, IGMP snooping and port mirroring.

The SMC TigerSwitch 1000. The SMC TigerSwitch 1000 provides organisations with a cost effective and high performance means of deploying Gigabit Ethernet on a network backbone. It is targeted for use in campus backbones needing a switch to deploy Fast Ethernet to the desktop, network environments with aggregate Fast Ethernet switches and high-demand server farms and LANs requiring practical, cost-effective and high-performance deployment of Gigabit Ethernet.

The TigerSwitch 1000 provides eight Gigabit ports with SX (SC-type) fibre connection. Each port supports full duplex mode and provides non-blocking switching performance, forwarding 1,488,000 packets per second.

Other advanced features come as standard, including QoS (Quality of Service) Priority Queuing, which ensures smooth transmission of mission critical data; Port-based and tagged VLANs, providing maximum security and bandwidth efficiency; and IGMP snooping, which only allows IP Multicast traffic transmission to the registered members, resulting in overall bandwidth saving. Also included are Spanning Tree Protocol, allowing the creation of redundant data paths to increase network reliability; and Half and Full Duplex Flow Control, which eliminates lost packets due to port saturation. Should problems occur, troubleshooting is straightforward thanks to the use of Port Mirroring.

( SMC Networks, 2000

This was last published in May 2000

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