MOREnet: Providing Statewide Connection for Missouri's Educators and Researchers
The hallmark of world-class research and education is collaborationconnecting people and ideas in joint intellectual effort. Missouri's Research and Education Network, MOREnet, provides exactly the kind of connection that today's researchers and educators need. A part of the University of Missouri System, MOREnet provides reliable Internet access and support services to Missouri's higher education and public schools K-12, public libraries, community networks, and state government organizations.
As a technology leader, MOREnet implements technologies that enable educators and researchers to share communication tools, ideas, and educational resources across the state. Recently MOREnet began looking for an ATM network backbone solution that would deliver carrier-class reliability and ensure high QoS for its Internet access and videoconferencing services. After extensive evaluation, MOREnet selected the Cisco BPX® 8600 series wide-area switches, turning its network into the consortium's most important collaborative tool.
MOREnet's existing Layer 3 routed network carried IP-routable traffic across the network with no QoS, which was fine for e-mail, administrative traffic, and access to the shared EBSCOhost online periodical database. The state also had 30 video clusters deployed across the state, which were not connected to the wide-area network. If faculty or staff members wanted to videoconference with colleagues in another clusterthey couldn't.
"To connect our H.320 video clusters over the wide-area network we needed guaranteed QoS and bandwidth," says David Olson, coordinator of new technologies. "That requires a high-speed, reliable, redundant network that supports specific QoS management. It requires ATM."
MOREnet defined specific requirements for its ATM network backbone. First, it had to be based on industry standards, supporting legacy technologies such as H.320 legacy video while enabling MOREnet to move toward current standards, such as H.323 video. As the sole provider of Internet access and networking services to its constituent institutions, MOREnet also required a network that delivered nonstop reliability. This dictated a carrier-class, fully redundant backbone that delivers up to 99.99 percent availability.
Integrating disparate video clusters over the wide-area network required the ability to specify QoS and still ensure available bandwidth for other Internet and data services. For example, data services should be able to utilize any video bandwidth not already in use, and bandwidth allocations must be easily adjustable as MOREnet members change usage patterns.
In addition, MOREnet wanted the flexibility to deploy virtual private networks (VPNs). For example, if faculty at one MOREnet member institution received a research grant, a VPN enables them to collaborate with staff and colleagues from other MOREnet member institutions. The ability to set up and dismantle VPNs on an as-needed basis is a vital collaboration tool for educators and researchers. Finally, for all of its advanced capabilities, the network had to be easy to manage, enabling MOREnet to easily add features and technologies that would benefit members while conforming to industry standards.
Olson and the MOREnet staff evaluated several approaches for integrating the video clusters. An ISDN overlay network was too complex, leading MOREnet to consider ATM switches from every major vendor. They chose the Cisco BPX 8600 series wide-area switch because it met all of their requirements.
"Reliability is key, and the BPX switch has unparalleled reliability," says Olson. "Cisco was the only vendor to present a solution that provided full redundancy in the switch and two physical interfaces to the same trunk facility. The BPX also enables us to deliver circuit emulation for legacy video and routed services over a single ATM uplink in a nice neat package."
MOREnet also needed to leverage its IT resources, which meant simplifying network management as much as possible. For this reason MOREnet chose Cisco WAN Manager (formerly StrataView Plus) network management package. WAN Manager integrated well with MOREnet's existing IBM/Tivoli NetView, CiscoWorks, and CiscoView packages, leveraging the network management system and experience they already possess.
Five Cisco BPX 8600 wide-area switches are located in Columbia, Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, and Jefferson City, Missouri. An additional BPX is located at the research lab in Columbia for network testing and modeling. The BPX switches are connected via OC-3 (155 Mbps) connections and connected to Cisco 7200 series routers at each school location via DS-3 (45 Mbps) connections. Each of the state's video clusters is then connected to the MOREnet network via a T1 circuit emulation. H.320 video traffic is switched over fractional T1 connections and terminates at a Cisco MGX™ 8220 multiservice concentrator at the Columbia BPX switch. The MGX 8220's circuit emulation cards take the video traffic from the ATM network into the video multipoint control unit (MCU), which does not have an ATM interface.
Figure 1: MOREnet's Network
Existing Cisco 7500 series routers provide aggregation services for strictly routed traffic, and MOREnet will implement multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), combining ATM and IP over the integrated backbone. All told, the network serves 900 connections, hundreds of thousands of users, and will continue to grow to meet the needs of the MOREnet community.
"The BPX makes it easy for us to add capabilities as we build the network," says Olson. "We now have a fully redundant, carrier-class network that we can manage ourselves." With the BPX network, MOREnet has unbeatable flexibility in responding to the needs of its members. DS-3 or OC-3 access circuits allow bandwidth to be scaled quickly. If a six-month research project requires 10 Mbps of dedicated service between three points, Olson can customize connections as required. MOREnet can also add a circuit between a non-MOREnet research project member and a MOREnet member, enabling collaboration without having to pay for a dedicated, nailed-up circuit.
MOREnet will be able to deploy VPNs around the state for projects requiring dedicated bandwidth. For example, if a student in St. Joseph needs to take a class at Southeast Missouri State, MOREnet can schedule an hour every Wednesday afternoon for that connection, keeping the required bandwidth available for that period of time. Other VPN projects include statewide VPNs for higher education members with multiple locations, as well as a statewide library project.
"Without the collaborative efforts of MOREnet members, you'd need multiple networks to accomplish the same things," says Todd Krupa, MOREnet information officer. "With the MOREnet network, they can leverage the capabilities of a single, consolidated network and obtain access to services such as EBSCO at a better price than they could receive individually. Collaboration provides more resources for everybody."