There was no spaghetti of wires or decades-old phone system lurking behind the walls of a massive sports and event arena before it opened last year in Tulsa, Okla., and when they designed the first network for the new venue, the IT team planned to keep it that way. To save money and ease network management, the arena is run on a converged IP network built on 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) for voice, data and video.
"The biggest problem in an arena or convention center is there is no 'normal.' What the act today wants may not be what the trade show tomorrow wants and may not be what the concert wants the next day," said I.J. Rosenblum, senior manager of technology at SMG Tulsa Arena, the private company that manages the city-owned Bank of Oklahoma Center. "An incredibly flexible network was very important to us."
Through Internet Protocol (IP) and power over Ethernet, every device in the arena -- from wireless ticket scanners to voice over IP phones to surveillance cameras -- connects to one set of cabling, Rosenblum said. The decision saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital expenses, he said, and enabled him to use a portion of that savings to upgrade 24-port switches to 48-port ones.
"When we put the systems out for bid, structured cabling was one bid," he said. "All cabling was to be run by one vendor. It allowed us to switch our dollars."
Segment a converged IP network with VLANs
The city of Tulsa had previously worked with Foundry Networks before Brocade acquired it. After vetting several other vendors that Rosenblum declined to name, Tulsa returned to Brocade to build the converged IP network for its new $196 million, 565,000 square foot arena.
"We were looking for a product that offered good packet shaping and quality of service features, technical service and support, and had relatively little downtime, because that's extremely important in this industry," Rosenblum said. "If Paul McCartney's here today and he wants to get on the Internet, you get Paul McCartney on the Internet. [Saying] 'A switch went down' doesn't work."
By segmenting traffic into about 40 virtual local area networks (VLANs), Rosenblum can ensure that voice over IP (VoIP) phones are in the front of the line for quality of service and that streaming video for surveillance cameras, second for quality of service, gets the maximum bandwidth available.
"The actual control panel and management software gives the overview and the ability to make the changes you need very quickly and much more easily than I've seen in other products," Rosenblum said. "We were getting more bang for the buck from Brocade."
Among the arena's 17 data closets are 22 of Brocade's FastIron fixed and modular 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches. The arena uses 10 GbE on the event floor because of the increased bandwidth needs that come with executing a rock concert or trade show, he said. The rest of the arena -- stadium seating, concession stands and so forth -- is powered by 1 GbE on the same converged IP network.
The 45-year-old Tulsa Convention Center across the street -- undergoing an expansion set to finish in January -- will shed its old cabling and connect to the arena's converged IP network via two 10 Gigabit fiber optic links and 15 more switches, said Rosenblum, who is sticking with Brocade.
For buildings as big as the BOK Center, management is a lot easier on a converged IP network, according to Harry Petty, director of product marketing for enterprise campus networks at Brocade.
"Instead of trying to keep track of physical cables and pulling multiple cables to every spot you're going to need [them], it's a lot [better] to have one pipe and logically provision it," Petty said. "We're able to give them something in which everything worked together – wired, wireless, voice, data and video from the edge to the core."
Beware: A converged IP network comes with risks
Some IT professionals are lukewarm to network convergence because of its security risks as well as the threat of one network failure snowballing into a bigger collapse.
"Yes, unfortunately, [the two links between the arena and convention center] aren't redundant," Petty said. "They are within one fiber cable that has 96 strands. If that cable [were] dug up, there would be a loss of network connectivity."
Both buildings do have backup connections, though. Through two firewalls designed to roll the backup if the 10 Gigabit links are cut, the BOK Center can fall back on a 100 Mbps up/down pipe, while the convention center has a 15 Mbps up, 2 Mbps down backup.
"We have also established a VPN tunnel between the two firewalls that we can turn on in case of this problem," Rosenblum said. He added that the firewalls and VPN also address the security risks. "One of the additional benefits of the VLAN setup is to prevent broadcast storms from affecting our admin or security systems VLAN."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer