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SDN and InteropNet: Cranking up and running world's biggest temporary network

Jon Gold | May 7, 2013
Hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees all depend on a network managed by 23 different vendors


It starts with a gathering in a warehouse in Brisbane, Calif. Vendor reps, volunteers and networking experts of all stripes meet to create an enormous temporary network using products from 23 different companies, test it within an inch of its life -- and then stuff it on to trucks drive it out to Las Vegas.

Handling Internet access for all of Interop 2013 -- everything from sophisticated tech demos to CEO emails -- is an unsurprisingly complicated task. With 13,000 attendees and more than 300 exhibitors, demand is constant.

"I would say [InteropNet] is equivalent to some decent-size enterprises. I wouldn't go into Fortune 100 kind of stuff, but the number of users being supported is in the thousands, so you're talking a larger mid-sized enterprise. ... Lots of edge routing, multiple co-locations," estimates E.J. Dath, a senior advanced solutions architect at Brocade.

Dath is a veteran of InteropNet, thanks to his time at Vyatta, a virtual networking company that was acquired by Brocade last summer.

Not only does InteropNet have to get planned, built, tested, shipped and reactivated on-site in a mere matter of weeks, it has to handle a particularly Internet-thirsty crowd.

"Somebody walks in the door [to the Interop show floor], they may have three devices or more that are communicating [with the Wi-Fi network], and if they're working in the booth, they might have booth gear that trying to connect," he says.

Since wired drops cost money, Dath says, everyone tries to get by on the Wi-Fi provided -- with predictable results.

"It's all very crowded when you've got this thing cranked up during the busy days on the show floor," he says.

The company operates three co-location sites across the country -- one in Sunnyvale, Calif., one in Denver and one in Newark, for the smaller Interop New York show. In years past, Vyatta products have been responsible for the routing and firewalling in the Denver site, but this year, according to Dath, the lately acquired company is also providing edge routing for the entire show floor, along with a 100G link between the Denver and California co-location sites.

"This year, we actually have gear on the floor itself, so things will be a little different, for sure," he says. "It's a little different, too, because we're more 'core network' at this point, and some of the teams that really work on the pedestals and things that service the show floor itself, right below the edge routing aspects of what we're doing -- those guys often troubleshoot all kinds of crazy things that go on."

The network operations teams and other IT personnel that staff the show floor and the NOC are volunteers, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some are affiliated with the official InteropNet vendors, but many are not. Despite the heterogeneous nature of the team, it's a pretty collegial atmosphere.


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