For a city that has won awards for environmental sustainability, virtualizing its data center was a logical next step. Reducing the impact on the environment would be a benefit for the City of Alexandria, VA, but it wouldn’t be the only one. The city could also realize hard savings, such as reduced recurring costs for facilities, cooling, power, and hardware. The ability to support “always on” applications, a more robust disaster recovery model, increased network security, and simplified administration were additional business benefits. Data center virtualization would bring sizable advantages to the City of Alexandria.
A key factor for success in any data center virtualization project is an agile network, which the city’s ITS team knew needed to be implemented before a virtualization project could get off the ground. Otherwise, heavy network usage during peak hours could potentially drag down application performance, delay backup operations, and compromise recovery times in the event of an emergency. The City of Alexandria was running a network based on a legacy spanning tree protocol, but this was not capable of supporting virtualization. Additionally, the network lacked bandwidth and stability to support heavy network traffic. Finally, for a city serving approximately 150,000 residents and 45 city government offices, including the police department, city hall, human services and libraries, its CDWM network was reaching the end of its usefulness and would need a significant upgrade for the city to proceed with its virtualization and replication ambitions.
Because the new network would need greater capacity to support two main data centers, the Information Technology Services (ITS) team concluded that Shortest Path Bridging (SPB), combined with a 10GB network, was required. This would provide the necessary performance for the virtualization and replication project, as well as support future growth.
“This is the first step in our journey to a smart city initiative. Without Avaya as a platform, we really couldn’t entertain it.”
-Kevin O’Shaughnessy, Network Division Chief, City of Alexandria
Laying the Groundwork for a Smart City
The ITS team decided to tackle both the architecture redesign and the network capacity upgrade simultaneously. Even though the City of Alexandria has been a long-time Avaya customer, and had selected Avaya for a previous Voice over IP implementation, the ITS team conducted a comprehensive due diligence exercise to investigate available solutions to upgrade its existing network. With the help of its Avaya reseller, the City chose Avaya’s SPB-based Fabric Connect solution, along with Avaya Ethernet Series (ERS) switches, to serve as the backbone for future virtualization capabilities.
“Based on our current network environment and structure, we could easily implement Avaya’s Fabric Connect into our existing environment without making huge changes,” says Steve Jones, Network Engineer. “Avaya’s switches integrated nicely with what we had.”
Preparation was important to Alexandria. Before moving forward with Fabric Connect, the team attended conferences to learn more, particularly from end customers. While most of the users were implementing Fabric Connect for video, something that may be a future project for the city, the training courses and seminars presented by Avaya helped the team for the duration of the project. Planning sessions were held over several months with the Avaya reseller, which served as a trusted advisor throughout each phase of the process. Avaya and city engineers had to identify what software and hardware was needed, as well as devise an implementation and cutover plan that would minimize network outages and overall impact to users.
The devil was in the details. The phased deployment of the new network began with software upgrades and core switches and continued with site upgrades: Jones and his team had to visit each physical site to ensure environmental needs like power, rack space, and cabling were installed. “It sounds boring, but it turns out to be a big part of an upgrade,” Jones says. For example, recreation centers were not built specifically to handle advanced technology.
All that prep work paid off, however. “When it came time to do cutovers, we were actually able to do most of these during normal business hours,” Jones says. Avaya was available remotely to offer assistance as a safety net. The city’s Avaya reseller was on site to support the network cutover, which went smoothly and with minimal interruption of services.
“Based on our current network environment and structure, we could easily implement Avaya’s Fabric Connect into our existing environment without making huge changes.”
-Steve Jones, Network Engineer, City of Alexandria
Astonished by Efficiency, Simplicity, Reliability
Users and network engineers alike noticed improvements in the network immediately after the cutover. “We received calls from some of the customers that the network response times were much better after we did the cutover,” Jones says. “It was amazing to get phone calls from the users noting how much faster it was.”
Meanwhile, the engineers were thrilled to have eliminated the spanning tree architecture from the network, thereby reducing the overall complexity of managing the network. Before, the engineers had to trunk VLANs across ports through the network. Now with Avaya Fabric Connect, they could take advantage of in/out ports that could be defined at the core, removing an entire layer of difficulty and eliminating the need to track VLAN ports in a spreadsheet, which was time-consuming to reference and update. “We’re a shop of limited resources; three of us support the whole infrastructure,” Jones says. “Any time we can simplify things, we’re all for it.”
The network is also more reliable. Performance doesn’t degrade with heavy traffic, bad weather, or a construction mishap. Applications that would time out while waiting for the spanning tree to recover now continue as if nothing is wrong, even if a squirrel chews through a fiber cable. “When we have a fiber outage, it’s not noticed by users,” Jones says. “People are so reliant on their applications, any kind of outage is too much.”
Cost Savings from Integration
Since Avaya ERS switches integrated neatly with Alexandria’s existing equipment, there were cost savings baked in. Not only was the equipment more competitively priced, but the city didn’t have to rip and replace across the board to implement the 10GB upgrade and the Fabric Connect network. Where it made sense, the city replaced obsolete hardware. For the most part, where existing equipment investments could be used and supported, they were left in the network. Alexandria also leveraged virtual services platform abilities on the switches to avoid replacing equipment that still worked. The virtualized data centers, set to go live in late 2016, will also produce their own cost savings, as well as support more applications and provide greater resiliency.
Additionally, Alexandria will benefit from better disaster recovery, since everything will be one big site. The city was already known for its uptime. However, the improved speeds, access to data, and virtualization will make recovery faster and easier.
In the future, Alexandria will consider implementing security cameras for live streaming video on the network. It will be less complicated to configure with Fabric Connect, and the extra bandwidth will ensure that video is not choppy. For the City of Alexandria, Avaya is a critical building block in the city’s networked future.
“It’s the first step in our journey to a smart city initiative,” says Kevin O’Shaughnessy, Network Division Chief. “Without this as a platform, we couldn’t really entertain it.”