Interop: How you build the network for a networking trade show

NEW YORK — Once a year Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Jeff Enters gets to build and rip apart a data centre network.

Not any infrastructure, but one purpose-built for the twice-a-year Interop networking trade show. The latest show is on here this week.

As an HP chief infrastructure architect, Enters leads a group of company engineers who works with a number of network and security equipment manufacturers who have to assemble a wired and wireless infrastructure tough enough to be transported around the country yet powerful enough to serve the needs of a trade show.

Sometimes, the infrastructure acts as a showcase for vendors’ products – like on Wednesday when supplier F5 Networks tried to bring down the network with a simulated denial of service attack that flung over 100 Gbps at the system. HP pushed three of its routers rated at 2 million routes up to 1.9 million routes to stress test them.

“The network gives the vendors a chance to show our capabilities,” Enters told reporters.

It’s also a challenge: Electricity costs in New York are higher than in Las Vegas, so certain elements have to be rethought for each show.

This year lead members of the team have been wearing location-based wireless tags, which will track where they’ve been. It may provide useful enough  information that attendees will be given them next year, Enters said, allowing vendors to figure out where people are spending their time on the show floor.

HP has been providing the network to the shows in Las Vegas and New York since 2009. Once a year the conference organizer issues an RFP in the fall for the various network parts needed – everything from switches to Ethernet cable — with the 20 or so winners chosen by a panel of volunteer consultants.

This year’s local network core, for example, was provided by Avaya Inc. (which is using shortest path bridging for traffic management)  and Brocade Communications Systems, Network Hardware Resale, with security appliances and load balancers from F5, console access from OpenGear, physical infrastructure management from Cormant-CS and Wi-Fi access points from Xirrus Inc.

In January the winning partners assemble in a warehouse in Brisbane, Calif., and figures out in two weeks how the network will be assembled. Then the racks are unplugged and shipped first to Interop Las Vegas, and then, in the fall to New York.

Communications among the team is vital, Enters said in an interview, not the least of which is because sometimes competitors have to work side by side. Last year, for example, HP and arch-rival Cisco Systems Inc. provided the local core network. “It’s very challenging” he said.

For redundancy, the network gets its Internet connectivity through core routers and switches in three data centres across the U.S. owned by CenturyLink where  HP has co-located its routers and servers dedicated for these events. Each data centre has a 1 Gbps pipe which goes to the four-rack infrastructure  set up at the show. From there Ethernet drops go to vendor booths on the show floor, to the press room and rooms used for workshops.

The registration desk gets wireless, and thousands of conference attendees get free Wi-Fi access (but only if they have smart phones and laptops that have 5 MHz radios).

Because it wouldn’t look good if the network went down at a networking show, there’s also an out-of-band network as well.

While the overall network capacity is 2 Gpbs, Enters figures traffic peaks at about 300 Mbps.

To manage the local network there’s a network operation centre on the show floor.

Because the network runs only for five days there are taps on most parts of the network to help see what’s going on.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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