A Cisco optical network in Auburn, Indiana, serves the public electric utility, scaling up to retain a major employer.
With approximately 12,000 residents and publicly-owned water and electrical utilities, the City of Auburn, Indiana, is a small community with big-city requirements. Viewed as an innovator among smaller municipalities, the city's government has long supported operations with state-of-the-art network and communications technologies.
In the 1990s, the city began work on a fiber-optic network to connect the nine substations in the Auburn Electric Department. The network needed to transport voice and Ethernet services as well as the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that is the electric utility's nerve center. The SCADA system handles telemetry and control functions for the city's electric grid: opening and closing circuit breakers, monitoring electrical equipment, and protecting relays. To support these critical functions, the network needed to be exceptionally reliable and resilient.
"The latency had to be kept below 5 milliseconds to support relay control," says Scott D. Bowles, principal engineer and president of Spectrum Engineering Corporation, the City of Auburn's electrical engineering partner for more than 20 years. "Any delay greater than that could cause the relays to malfunction, resulting in costly and unwanted power outages."
Supporting the Electric Department was the most immediate concern, but the city government envisioned a solution that could do even more. Not knowing what challenges and opportunities might lie ahead, the city leaders were committed to building a technology foundation that was flexible and scalable enough to support new services as Auburn evolved.
"When we created our technology master plan, we understood the value that network connectivity could provide for us over the next 5 to 10 years," says Christopher W. Schweitzer, AICP, GISP, information systems manager for the City of Auburn. "We wanted to invest in an optical network that would deliver not only the functions we needed in the short term, but that could also support services for citizens and local businesses in the future."
The City of Auburn's existing LAN, WAN, and voice systems run on an environment built almost exclusively with solutions from Cisco Systems®. Based on the quality of the Cisco® solutions and support, as well as the excellent relationship the city had developed with its integrator Logicalis, a Cisco Gold Partner, the city's Information Systems (IS) department looked to Cisco first for the optical solution.
With help from Logicalis and Spectrum Engineering, the City of Auburn deployed a SONET OC-48 optical ring (scalable to OC-192) built upon Cisco ONS 15454 Multiservice Provisioning Platforms (MSPPs). The versatile platforms provide counter-rotating DS-1 connections to each of the Electric Department's nine substations to support SCADA signaling, as well as Ethernet connectivity for departmental computers that collect utility data and link the ring to the city's WAN.
An OC-12 ring would have been sufficient to support the utility network, but city leaders chose to invest in the additional scalability afforded by the higher-capacity optical network. The decision proved to be a wise one, as just two years later the optical network - the Auburn Essential Services Network - became a critical solution to a problem that no one had foreseen.
One of Auburn's largest employers is a manufacturing company in the automotive industry that maintains its worldwide data center in the city. However, the data center had long had problems with the local ISP, including several outages that had crippled the manufacturer's operations. By 2003, the company was ready to move the data center to a new location. The move would have meant the loss of a $7 million annual payroll and 75 jobs in Auburn - a significant blow to the community. The company wanted to stay in Auburn, but the regional ISP could not provide the level of service required. The company leaders turned to the local government for help.
Thanks to the robust capacity and scalability of the optical network, the City of Auburn was able to rapidly expand its network to provide a headend Ethernet connection for the manufacturer. The company was linked to the Auburn Essential Services Network through two nodes, allowing the city to extend the same level of protection and resilience employed by the SCADA system and to offer the manufacturer a much more stringent service-level agreement than the incumbent carrier could provide.
"We were very fortunate to be able to begin offering these services in a short amount of time, and the Cisco optical network allowed us to do it," says Schweitzer.
The City of Auburn soon extended the model to support other businesses in the community. Faced with the need to provide its newfound customers with the best possible reliability and availability, the city turned to remote network management provider CentrePath to provide 24-hour network monitoring.
"CentrePath is our eyes and ears on the network," says Schweitzer. "With their technology and expertise, we are able to quickly roll out new community services while achieving carrier-class levels of availability. They have been a great partner."
"The network is giving us the ability to be flexible, scalable, and, therefore, agile. It's truly empowering our community."
- Christopher W. Schweitzer, AICP, GISP, Information Systems Manager, City of Auburn
Today, the City of Auburn relies on its Cisco optical network to support both critical internal services and business customers in the community. The solution is helping the city to provide more reliable, cost-effective electrical services than ever before. At the same time, the network provides a foundation for forging closer relationships with community employers, helping to safeguard local jobs and to create a more attractive environment for businesses.
"When it comes to acting as a service provider in our community, our goal is to provide the best services at the lowest cost, just as we do with our other utilities and public services," says Schweitzer. "Certainly, this is new territory for us. But our Cisco optical network is empowering us to take this step."
The Cisco optical solutions, as well as the remote management and monitoring from CentrePath, have allowed the city to provide the superior network resilience required to support both internal and external constituents. "The network has been extremely reliable," says Bowles. "The worst-case latency conditions we've seen are still below 3 milliseconds."
"In the four years the Cisco optical network has been deployed, we've never had any problems," adds Schweitzer. "It's providing us with reliability, with scalability, and with longevity of investment. We have a great deal of confidence in the network and a strong overall trust in Cisco products."
Most important, the Cisco optical network has become a key building block for transforming the way the city can operate in the future, both internally and when serving citizens and businesses in the community. "Whether we're looking at providing broadband services to our constituents or promoting greater interagency cooperation, we're able to do things that, usually, only much larger cities can do," says Schweitzer. "The network is giving us the ability to be flexible, scalable, and, therefore, agile. It's truly empowering our community. And it's Cisco technology that's making it happen."
Community leaders have recently approved a plan to extend Internet, data, and voice services to the business community over a Fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) network in the next year. City leaders also are exploring providing Auburn residents with similar Internet and voice offerings using the FTTP network, but with the addition of video services. The community is excited about what the future holds for a community-owned fiber network. Whichever path the city takes, the Cisco optical network will continue to play a vital role in the new implementations.