Sunday, December 23, 2007

Centennial Networking Lab

Recently I've been spending some time over at NC State University's Centennial Campus. Designed to be a cooperative University/Industry park, the campus mixes corporate offices (Red Hat's HQ, for example, and ABB's Raleigh office) with University departments and facilities. There's even a small residential area with some really nice (and expensive) all-brick townhomes.

The reason I've been over there lately is because John Bass, who runs both Centennial Networking Lab and the related Centaur Lab (one facility, two missions), has been gracious enough to let a few of our servers call it home.

Upon entering the lab, you see many things you'd expect to find in such a facility - racks of servers and networking gear humming along, air conditioners, raised floors, neatly threaded CAT5 cables, a roomba. Look closer at the racks, though, and it becomes clear that this is no ordinary data center.

Blue-faced Juniper M20s sit along side Cisco GSRs and Catalyst 6500s, all connected to the rest of the world via deceivingly skinny OC-48 and 192 fiber connections. Want to simulate thousands of Web users accessing your web site from their browsers to see what your limit is? Spirent's gear is up to the task. One and a half racks of Dell servers crunch numbers for the NCSU Physics department, modelling what happens right after a star dies.

If one of the lab's tenants needs to test QoS across MPLS, "We can throw up a quick LSP mesh," John says in a decidedly nonchalant, but also completely modest, way that comes from having done it umpteen times.

The lab serves as the Raleigh, NC site for Internet2, which helps explain the tremendous routing capability and fat, redundant OC-48/192 connections.

You may know John's name from his writings in NetworkWorld Magazine, where he frequently publishes the results of the product bake-offs he performs at CNL. I first got to know John back in 2005 when we wanted to test the scalability of NetDirector. John and his team designed the test, implemented it and, in the process, uncovered several areas for improvement. For my money, John is one of the best data center/networking professionals in the business - he knows his stuff inside and out, honors his commitments, is generous with his knowledge and contacts and is a great guy to boot.

Cheers JB - YTM!!

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