Creating a network to host a five-day event may not seem intimidating, but when that event is Interop, one of the largest tech conferences on the planet, meeting the expectations of the industry's brightest brings on the pressure. Imagine building InteropNet, a multivendor network showcasing the year's best technologies to support more than 350 vendors, 250 speakers and 13,000 attendees. As lead architect of InteropNet, this is what Glenn Evans does. But after 15 years, he's learned a thing or two.
Before the lights went on at Interop 2011 in Las Vegas, Evans talked to SearchNetworking.com about what it takes to deploy InteropNet and keep it going 24/7 during the event. Redesigning the network every year to meet the needs of the show, Evans likes to push the technology envelope. That means this is the first year that InteropNet’s primary systems are in the cloud rather than on-site, which will make it easier to tweak the network all year long and minimize installation time. Find out how Evans gets the network ready to handle any device that attendees bring, and understand why his team updated its DNS service for 2011.
What are the most challenging aspects of InteropNet every year?
Glenn Evans: One of the constant challenges we have is more of a logistical one: We have 20 different vendors, and we have to ensure all that stuff works together and is clean and functional. The other challenges change from year to year because we redesign the network every year to meet the message or goal of the Interop event. This year the event focuses on IPv6, data center, cloud environments and things like that. So when we redesign InteropNet, because it’s a demonstration platform, we take the show’s messaging points into consideration when we’re designing and specifying what sort of equipment and systems we use within InteropNet.
How do you address those challenges?
Evans: We refresh the network every 12 months. The whole cycle starts about six months prior to the Las Vegas event. In September/October of last year, we looked at what the goals were going to be for Interop 2011 and pushed out an RFP to all the exhibitors and our contacts stating our goals, our deliverables and asked them to provide responses on what sort of equipment, services and technology they could provide to help us meet those goals. Once we had the RFP process finalized and we selected our vendors, we then essentially got together in a room for some training sessions—both face-to-face and virtually—to work out how we could put all this equipment together.
Once we’ve got our basic design and our basic plan, we then move into a physical hot-stage area where we get all the equipment together, start to power it up, plug it in, modify designs and concepts as required, and test it out. Once we’ve got all that, we then break it down, ship it to the show, set it up and then let the attendees at it.
That design concept flows through the whole year. Vegas and New York will essentially have the same basic design with some changes in systems based on the physical limitations of each site.
What issues do you run into, if any, outfitting InteropNet for newer technologies?
Evans: One of the biggest challenges for us is compatible technologies. On the wireless network, we’re using what we call 'band steering,' but a lot of the older Wi-Fi clients don’t support that particular technology. So we've really got to retune or rethink our network based on the lowest common denominator [by supporting legacy wireless devices]. So that's probably one of the biggest challenges for us: meeting all the attendees’ expectations while providing the best service. It’s a challenge balancing out the client side with what we can build into the actual network. We can provide the latest and greatest, but there may be some clients who don’t have the latest and greatest gear.
How can you prepare the network without knowing what devices people will bring to the show? How do you know what the lowest common denominator is?
Evans: That’s a bit of a moving target. It changes every year. We’ve worked out that 802.11b Wi-Fi clients are becoming a lot scarcer, so we’re not accommodating those guys anymore. That gives us some breathing room in the overall radio space.
Are there any new challenges this year?
Evans: By its nature, the InteropNet will always present challenges. Some we hopefully have foreseen and worked out ways around. There’s always the expectation that something will pop up and surprise us at some point, like an attendee, exhibitor or speaker will want to do something that we hadn’t thought of. Our challenge will be to try to accommodate that person and make sure they have the same experience as everybody else.
What other changes are you making to the InteropNet network this year?
Evans: Our primary DNS systems now live out in the Internet and are hosted by a third-party company as opposed to being on the show floor and reliant on upstream connectivities for people to get access.
Who is that provider and how does their service help?
Evans: That’s DynDNS, and part of its service is to globally load balance DNS requests and DNS hosts. What we try to negate is the issue of a single point of failure. DNS these days provides a lot of functionality for all of the Internet, and without it, things just don’t work. The ability to globally load balance that DNS request in our DNS systems provides us with the level of redundancy that we really didn’t have in the past.
Why are you approaching DNS differently this year for InteropNet?
Evans: We’re always trying to optimize, innovate and do things a little bit smarter. This time around our primary systems are sitting out in a remote—or a cloud—environment which enables us to manage [our network] year round, have access to modify it if required, and fire the systems up quickly to get connectivity.
When we go to the show floor we roll out the equipment racks. We put power to them; we put a bit of network cable to them, and then things start to come online because we have these remote services. That’s why we’ve done it.