Running the 'World's Largest Temporary Network' is No Easy Task
Putting on a major convention like Interop Las Vegas requires Herculean efforts on several fronts. Thousands of hotel rooms booked. Millions of miles flown. Goodness knows how many packets of airline peanuts consumed.
But the most critical part of the whole thing could be the network - as some of the companies working on the project are quick to point out.
"Interop net is probably the world's largest temporary network," says NetScout Marketing Vice President Steve Shalita. It can be a difficult environment to work with, because although companies are constantly learning from previous shows, the demands on it increase every year.
The sheer diversity of the uses to which that network is put, he adds, also provides its own set of challenges.
"It's kind of a different scenario from the traditional enterprise, where you've got departments. At Interop, you've got hundreds of companies as well as all the people that are attending the show connecting to this network," Shalita notes.
Out of the trucks
CenturyLink Senior Product Manager Michael McAfee concurs that Interop is far from the usual networking project.
"This venue's a little bit different from the perspective that we have security vendors, we have different vendors exhibiting at the show floor that have different slants. Somebody wants to see [junk internet traffic] to demonstrate their toolkits against that. So we can't really block that from the network," he says. However, he adds that the company does block some of the worst malicious traffic from the Interop network where possible.
CenturyLink, which is the main bandwidth provider for Interop Las Vegas, begins working on-site a full week before the event, according to McAfee. The first step is to evaluate the fiber-optic backbone at the Mandalay Bay and ensure it's ready to go.
Next, the trucks carrying the company's own network gear arrive sometime in the middle of the week.
The company uses dedicated data centers to supply Internet connectivity, which it then provides to the venue via private-line Ethernet, he says. This allows for a lot of the configuration and management work to be handled off-site.
Into the soup
A consequence of the explosion in the number of wireless access points at recent shows, McAfee says, is that all vendors feel the need to crank up their settings in order to ensure connectivity, exacerbating the interference. He calls the phenomenon "wireless soup."
Nevertheless, in addition to the successful use of wireless backbone links, CenturyLink has found some more unexpected upsides to the proliferation of wireless at Interop.
McAfee recalls a recent case in which the company was able to track an unsuspecting user with an apparently malware-infected device via media access control address and wireless access point, eventually tracking them down on the show floor and providing anti-virus services.
NetScout and CenturyLink are among more than a dozen companies working in partnership on Interop Net. Their roles range from pure connectivity to network management to security monitoring. The results will be on display from May 6-10 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Email Jon Gold at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.
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