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Healthcare provider finds SDN is the proper Rx

John Dix | May 22, 2014
William Hanna, vice president of technical services at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), went out looking for a way to add capacity to a backup network and found what he wanted in Software Defined Networking (SDN) tools from Alcatel-Lucent. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix sat down with Hanna to learn about the process and experience.

So when we needed to expand our backup network, we had already tested the Nuage product and we were comfortable with it, so we made an investment in Nuage to add capacity to that network. And that's where we're at right now. 

How does it work?

The major components include a Nuage service directory, then Nuage spine and leaf network switches and what Nuage calls the virtual route switch, which is software that lives on a VMware host. In Stage One the early benefits will be added capacity and faster provisioning. With a spine and leaf architecture versus what we have today, you don't just have one path carrying traffic, you have multiple paths, which gives you more capacity and makes it easier to scale up from there. 

And then there are a lot of other things SDN will bring to the table. Everything from improving the provisioning process with a Graphical User Interface and scripting engine that takes the place of the engineer entering the device configuration line by line through CLI, to improving security with multi tenancy and improving quality-of-service. For quality of service today, you deal with capacity for traffic that's going east-west within your data center between, say, database servers and application servers, by creating oversubscription models, and you make that ratio smaller and smaller and smaller. With SDN, we can provision the network and specify how much pipe to give it, with what priority, etc.

Then there are a lot of SDN benefits folks will have more appreciation for in the future, like spanning tree elimination. That's a huge thing. We're just at the beginning phase. We're in the middle of rack and stack and we've done some initial testing. We have staff going through training, and the feedback so far is very, very positive. 

You mentioned Stage One. Where do you go after that?

The next step, providing SDN does all they say it's supposed to do, will be to essentially connect the Nuage infrastructure into our data center Cisco Nexus infrastructure. So, where that backup network was its own network before, we start to add capacity to the production network so it supports both backup and production.

So instead of two switching infrastructures and a routing infrastructure, now I'm going to have a single infrastructure that will run backup and production. It will attach to our Nexus environment for Layer 3 type decisions, and then talk to the rest of the network.

How far out is Phase Two?

I think it will probably start with the next big changeover in servers, which is probably July, August.

Did you look at any other SDN options other than Nuage?

 

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