Connection maths

The American University of Beirut has invested in a network upgrade to improve bandwidth provision and enable better service delivery.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  May 3, 2008

The American University of Beirut has invested in a network upgrade to improve bandwidth provision and enable better service delivery.

The American University of Beirut (AUB) is one of the more well known and trusted educational institutions in the capital city of Lebanon.

The university plays host to an ever-growing number of students and faculty and is constantly involved in improving the courses and services it offers its varied stakeholders. This same interest is paid to its IT infrastructure as well.

All IT related to AUB is operated and maintained by the thirty member computing and networking services (CNS) department. The department is structured with multiple interdependent teams of specialists who have specific areas of concentration.

"AUB has a medium size network with an Ethernet switched architecture optimised to best fit the IT services and datacentres' distribution. AUB architecture is fully redundant and resilient, and is designed and optimised to provide an agile environment capable of adjusting to the change in traffic flow demands and provisioned to maximise security," says Rabih Itani, assistant director for operations and manager of data communication services, computing and networking services (CNS) at AUB.

"At the core of AUB is a mesh of interlinked Layer 2/3 and Layer 4 aware Ethernet switches which in turn connect the wiring closets as well as the various service controllers. The centrally controlled wireless network services are provisioned as an overlay on top of the wired network as is the case with security traffic control and sanitisation systems, thus enabling the separation of layers and enabling an easy to change and operate network. Distributed, clustered as well as multi-tiered services are easily integrated with the above network layers while application accelerators are plugged in where they are needed," Itani continues.

AUB has two main datacentres in the campus and two more for the medical centre apart from smaller datacentres for certain departments. These datacentres host and provide several apps and services.

While the main datacentres provide everything common to the campus, the department specific server rooms only provide applications relevant to them.

AUB strives to keep up with the continuous demand for connectivity, speed, security and service delivery as mandated by its 12,000 plus user community. This user community connect to the network through 5,000 wired nodes, 4,000 wireless nodes, and from outside the campus.

All IT related to AUB is operated and maintained by the thirty member CNS department. The department is structured with multiple interdependent teams of specialists who have specific areas of concentration.

Move to scale

Last year, AUB felt the need to upgrade its existing core switches and to implement a set which sported newer features and will enable the university to scale easily with growth.

"Six driving factors necessitated the network upgrade. There was the need to replace end-of-life hardware, introduce a new generation of ASICs that enable new feature sets and higher switching capacities to meet the expected increase of demand for speed and reduction in communication jitter. We also wanted to introduce, on a gradual basis, 10 Gigabit Ethernet switched interfaces to link the main datacentres in order to provision for the anticipated increase in bandwidth needs and traffic volumes as well as redesign for higher availability at the network core and datacentres to meet end user services availability expectations, and increase the business criticality levels of IT services. We wanted tighter device and network security and provision for a new layer of security that would provide better armour. Moreover, we wanted to sustain and expand existing services and improve capacity to add more services, especially on the wireless and IP-telephony side," says Itani.

According to Itani, the much-needed upgrade of the existing chassis based switching core faced tight budget constraints.

Moreover, AUB realised that the operational life time of chassis core switches is limited as the possibility of reusing them at other network layers is not a viable option given the power and space limitations and the maintenance and port costs at the aggregation layer and wiring closets.

"Researching available products and solutions in the market, AUB identified new families of Gigabit Ethernet stackable switches that enjoy sufficient switching performance capabilities, and a rich set of features providing high availability, security and scalability capabilities, and can be equipped with necessary 10 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces to meet AUB's set objectives," says Itani.

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