A network-upgrade horror story... part 1

An IT executive tells the key lessons that he learnt during a four-year project to revamp his university's whole network.

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It sounded like a no-brainer when we started the project in 2003. The idea was to replace the aging 155Mbit/s ATM-over-SONET network at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) with a new network based on 10G Ethernet over DWDM.

Nobody could have imagined the glitches, snafus and legal hold-ups that we ran into over the past four years. We finally issued the contract for the project in May, and, needless to say, we learned a bunch of valuable lessons along the way. Here's the whole saga, from the beginning:

During the nine years that the ATM-over-SONET system has been in place, the metropolitan network has grown to 55,000 nodes encompassing two San Francisco campuses, four hospitals and more than 200 remote sites, including regional clinics spread throughout California. The campus network also has evolved into an essential, mission-critical utility, right up there with water and electric power.

Reliability had become a worry, however. Of great concern was the ticking clock: network devices that were at - or rapidly heading toward - end-of-life. That means no vendor support for such essentials as software patches, technical support and replacement of failed hardware components. Cisco's support for the Catalyst 5500s and LS-1010s was waning.

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