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Virtualization, Cisco chop one network into many

Philips Research Laboratories already had a pretty impressive network, but when the Netherlands-based firm had to partition it and give a host of other companies access, that's when things got interesting.

A while back, Philips Research Labs went through a transition. The campus opened itself up, welcoming third-party researchers and other companies to come along and join the fun.

But it wasn't all hugs and kisses. Essentially, Philips Research Labs had to take its network and revamp it to support roughly 40 other companies, totaling some 10,000 connected end users per day. So the transformation from being simply Philips Research Labs to being the High Tech Campus Eindhoven in the Netherlands was not only physical; it was virtual.

Peter Linssen, IT manager for the High Tech Campus, put it this way: "We have a very, very broad technical environment that we selectively open up to the people who want to use it."

The end result is a balancing act between security and collaboration.

Depending on what the needs are for a specific company, we can create an environment for that. We try to create a kind of marketplace. Basically, they create their own environment of services.
Peter Linssen
IT ManagerHigh Tech Campus Eindhoven
"We wanted to open up the campus," Linssen said. "The campus is now an open environment where people can come to do research."

But that switch required Linssen and his staff to change the network from an internal Philips-only environment to one that could support all of the others. Creating different networks for different user groups would've been costly, time-consuming and, simply put, completely impractical.

Linssen and his team went to Cisco Systems Inc. and expanded their network with the virtualization features in Cisco Catalyst 6500 switches.

The switches support Cisco's Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA) framework with network virtualization capabilities that allow network managers to partition a single physical network into many other networks across multiple locations, making the network highly scalable. Network virtualization uses tunneling and segmenting technologies to break out of current virtual LAN (VLAN) models. In the past, managers had to deploy numerous physical networks with redundant services to meet the needs of different groups accessing the network on one large campus. But with Catalyst's virtualization features, several networks can be collapsed into a single physical enterprise network that scales to meet diverse business user requirements.

And that's what Linssen did.

He said he needed to create a network that was "flexible" and "agile" and could also handle massive workloads without creating overwhelming management headaches. The team initially thought VLANs could do the trick, but it was discovered they couldn't scale to support the vast number of users.

So, Linssen put the Philips Research infrastructure on one virtual layer that runs parallel to the virtual layers with all of the other companies using the network.

"What's easy is you can easily change and add new clouds," Linssen said, meaning that adding a new virtual network is a breeze.

According to Cisco, network virtualization is achievable through three steps: access control, path isolation and policy enforcement. The Catalyst 6500 has several different technologies to allow virtualization, such as Network Admission Control (NAC), Identity Based Network Services for access control, Virtual Route Forwarding, Generic Route Encapsulation, and Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) for path isolation. There are also integrated services modules for policy enforcement. Those functions let a large campus such as the High Tech Campus partition the network into several secure virtual networks by overlaying partition mechanisms onto the existing LAN.

Basically, the technology let the High Tech Campus put many virtualized networks onto a single physical network, Linssen said.

Using Catalyst 6500 switches, the High Tech Campus can now support thousands of employees, partners and guests on multiple network segments without having to rip out and upgrade the entire infrastructure.

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And every group that uses the network, Linssen said, can dictate its own environment, specifications and policies on its own virtual network.

"Depending on what the needs are for a specific company, we can create an environment for that," he said. "We try to create a kind of marketplace. Basically, they create their own environment of services."

Marie Hattar, director of product marketing in Cisco's switching unit, said network virtualization capabilities have taken the idea of a campus and made it global. The idea is to consolidate many separate networks over one physical network.

"Effectively, the world is flat," Hattar said, adding that by creating virtualized networks, a company, or several companies, can map "one thing to many things or many things to one thing."

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