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November 1, 2003
ATM to the Rescue
Consultant Helps Global Tech Company Make Cost/Performance
By Rudain ArafehATM networks today get
than Rodney Dangerfield, saddled as they are with the reputation of being
inordinately expensive and all but obsolete in the IP era. But ATM can be the
architecture of choice for a variety of situations, particularly when a network
must serve locations that are oceans apart geographically.
Case in point: Far-flung Finisar Corp. recently replaced an IP
VPN with an ATM WAN to carry data, video and voice to the companys six
domestic and four international locations. The decision was made by weighing
performance needs against cost, with the aid of San Jose-based channel partner
Finisar manufactures Gigabit Ethernet fiber-optic solutions
and test/monitoring systems for high-speed data networks, along with performance
tools. The company focuses on gigE local area networks, Fibre Channel storage
area networks and MANs.
In 1999, when Finisar had no overseas facilities, the company
built an IP VPN to link some 700 employees in multiple offices in the United
States to the firms internal systems: an Agile Software Corp. enterprise
resource planning system, Oracle Corp. database and Microsoft Exchange e-mail
server. Since then, ongoing business growth and the addition of
overseas research/development and manufacturing facilities have driven the
number of WAN users to 1,700. In tandem, the company has added Datasweep Inc.s
Advantage plant management application to the data traffic.
Finisar long ago told Configure the IP infrastructure cracked
under the pressures of the companys global expansion and efforts to add video
conferencing to the original data-carrying function. The company needed
something to replace the VPN for most long-distance communications. Under
network planning guidance from Configure, a neutral network solution provider,
an ATM network now connects LANs serving users in the United States and in
Munich, Shanghai, Singapore and Malaysia.
THE TROUBLE WITH IP
Finisars initial IP VPN implementation
in 1999 was a quick fix for rapid growth. The company had mushroomed from 200
employees to 700 employees in a years time, and personnel inside and outside
Finisars headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., needed easy access to enterprise
data. A new IT director was hired, and he was an expert on IP VPNs. Given the
ubiquity of IP networks, it seemed a logical choice.
The first sign of trouble came when Finisar opened a
manufacturing facility in Malaysia and turned to video conferencing to iron out
the many issues that arose in launching the new operation. Because of periodic
Internet congestion, the virtual meetings were plagued by such severe latency
and packet loss problems that video communication had to be abandoned to the
detriment of smooth information exchange.
As the Malaysia site went live and other overseas locations
were added, the problems also began to affect data communications. Delays of
450ms to 900ms in overseas transmissions were common because of fluctuations in
Internet traffic, and packet loss hit an estimated 5 percent. This caused
connections to fail regularly during batch updates between the United States and
international facilities, and it derailed attempts at audio conferencing because
signal quality varied widely from one minute to the next.
The VPN costs only $25,000 a month for connection fees and
local loop charges, but the combination of the constant troubleshooting,
frequent downtime and inability to either audio or video conference made the
network all but useless at any price, Finisar concluded. To make matters worse,
it was problematic to maintain the IP network at international sites because
responsibilities were divided among different telecom providers.
OPTING FOR ATM
By 2001, Gabriella McGann had joined Finisar as
telecom manager, and one of her first responsibilities was to find a WAN
alternative that could accommodate video, voice and data. She began by making
preliminary inquiries with AT&T Corp. However, the carrier referred her to
Configure, one of 15 designated AT&T solution providers in the country.
Configure performed a thorough analysis of Finisars
situation, and agreed with the companys conclusion that the IP VPN was
unsuitable for Finisars needs.
After weighing the alternatives, Configure recommended an ATM
network as the best fit. Private line was ruled out because the cost would be 40
percent to 50 percent greater than an ATM solution. Frame relay had a smaller
but still significant cost disadvantage because of the particular multinational
network configuration required. On a performance level, frame could not support
Finisars large volume of traffic, and lacked the ability to prioritize data,
video or voice packets to ensure end user satisfaction.
We had no internal expertise in this area, and having an
outside consultant like Configure assured me that I was getting the right
solution and not just a sales pitch, McGann says. She accepted Configures
ATM recommendation and network design work-up, attracted by the fact that
AT&T would be able to serve all Finisar locations worldwide. Then she
authorized the firm to negotiate pricing and service level agreements with
Meanwhile, armed with AT&Ts offer, McGann did her own
comparison- shopping with other carriers. McGann says the research supported
Configures recommendations, and sealed the deal with AT&T. McGann then
assigned Configure to coordinate the installation at all locations.
The company and the consultant faced two
major challenges in deploying the new WAN. On the company side, Finisar had to
upgrade its network equipment to ensure its switches and routers would support
the ATM architecture. For its part, Configure had to manage the tricky task of
juggling the schedules of the AT&T technicians and the Finisar network
engineer who installed the hardware and performed test and turn-up duties at
each site. Scheduling the international facilities was a particular
While 30-day lead times are the norm for circuit installations
in the United States, Configure discovered overseas carriers schedule their work
90 days to 120 days ahead and rarely are able to give firm live dates. If
Configure inadvertently put the Finisar network engineer on a plane before the
circuits were ready, his valuable time would be wasted; if the engineer did not
arrive shortly after the AT&T technicians, the deployment would be
unnecessarily delayed. Making the schedules mesh required constant oversight.
ALL SYSTEMS GO
Finisars Sunnyvale headquarters went live
with the ATM WAN soon after the offices second DS3 circuit was installed in
June 2002. Other company facilities joined the network one by one until
the final piece was put in place in Shanghai, in April of this year.
With the switch to ATM technology, the unacceptable experience
the company had with the IP VPN became a thing of the past. The transmission
delays and packet loss, the application failures and video conferencing problems
are gone. Packet throughput is now a near perfect 99.99 percent, and delays have
been slashed to less than 70ms domestically and 250ms internationally well
under the VPNs painful 900ms hiccups, and well within the guidelines
established by the AT&T service level agreements.
The only network downtime to date has been due to a power
outage in Malaysia that was out of Finisars control. Most importantly, the
video conferencing is functioning without a hitch. The acid test on video conferencing came last year when our
CTO was at our Germany site, McGann says. He had a five-hour video board meeting with
key people in Sunnyvale, and they never lost their connection.
The built-in quality of service capabilities of ATM technology
permit packet prioritization for optimum service, and simplify network
troubleshooting because AT&T now acts as the single point of contact in the
event of a problem. AT&T can troubleshoot the connection from end to end,
including the local loop in the foreign country, where the vast majority of
The benefits come at a price. Direct network
costs have climbed to about $75,000 a month triple the price of the VPN.
However, ATM offers significantly more bandwidth and the ability to support
additional locations. The leap in reliability, uptime and communication
efficiency enabled by video conferencing also weigh in. The improved reliability
is particularly important in Finisars manufacturing locations, where any
disruption in network service can have serious repercussions on the production
The higher fees also are offset by the significant decrease in
IT staff time dedicated to network crises, the elimination of firewalls and
other security measures required on the public network. Finisar also expects 60
percent savings on long-distance fees when the WANs voice functionality is
activated later this year.
Spending close to $1 million a year on our WAN is hard to
swallow, but our executives recognize that this is a necessary cost of doing
business, and having a neutral third-party source like Configure do the
evaluation gave us the confidence that we were choosing the right technology for
our purposes, McGann says. We didnt have the expertise inhouse to make
the decision or design the network, and outsourcing the implementation process
took a lot of burden off our staff. When you consider the cost of a bad design
or a bad network, its a bargain at half the price.
Rudain Arafeh is CEO of Configure Inc., a network consultancy
headquartered in San Jose, Calif., with offices in Chicago and Austin, Texas.
The firm handles network design, implementation and
optimization ranging from simple LAN configurations to complex international
Read more about:Agents
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