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Toowoomba Council opts for 10Gbps Ethernet

10Gbps Ethernet a long-term promise for Toowoomba Council.
Written by David Braue, Contributor
The ink is still drying on the IEEE's 10Gbps Ethernet over copper standard, but one regional Queensland council has committed its future to the fibre-based version of the technology.

Planning for long-term network growth is never easy, but Toowoomba City Council is confident that it has secured enough headroom after rolling out a major network upgrade that is delivering one gigabit per second (Gbps) to more than 800 staff across numerous sites serving the 90,000-strong community.

The new network, which also uses new 10Gbps Ethernet connections to link up servers in the council's various facilities, was intended to replace the council's switched Ethernet network, which was installed nearly a decade ago but faced an uncertain future after the looming withdrawal of vendor support two years from now.

In designing that network's replacement, council IT staff took their best shot at predicting their network growth through 2011 or longer. This included the potential rollout of high-bandwidth video services, as well as voice over IP (VoIP) -- which has not yet been installed but is the subject of a separate upcoming PABX replacement tender.

-Over the past few years, with changes in our corporate systems, we've had an increase in network traffic," said Rodney Kuhn, principal for IT services for Toowoomba City Council. -We're looking to be able to provide options for VoIP and video streaming if we want to go down those paths, and certainly if we go to VoIP it will have a fairly major impact on the network."

-That's why things like quality of service capabilities were a very high priority with this particular solution: if we're going to support voice communication on the network as well, we have to make sure it can take the load without skipping a beat."

Network integrator Commander's vision of the future, built around Nortel Networks networking equipment, ultimately resonated the best with council technical staff.

Three Nortel Ethernet Routing Switch 5530s do most of the heavy lifting, providing fibre-optic 10Gbps Ethernet backbone connections that aggregate traffic from 11 24-port and 25 48-port Nortel Ethernet Routing Switch 5520s. These switches deliver the Gigabit Ethernet to the organisation's desktops, while inter-building microwave links connect office local area networks in other council offices and depots.

Standards for moving network data at 10Gbps have been around for several years, but have remained the exclusive realm of telecommunications carriers.

However, the technology has recently gained broader appeal thanks to lower-cost equipment and improving technologies -- in particular, the IEEE 802.3an-2006 specification, ratified earlier this month to provide 10Gbps Ethernet over standard twisted-pair network cabling.

That standard, which provides transmission speeds believed to be physically impossible just a few years ago, looks set to kick off a whole new round of network upgrades as other companies follow the lead of organisations like Toowoomba City Council.

Kuhn, however, is less concerned with being a trailblazer as with ensuring that the company's new network has what it takes to get his users running and stay that way.

The migration went smoothly, save for a few faulty patch leads and one building where engineers found ageing cable couldn't support the Gigabit Ethernet desktops.

That cabling was replaced, and the brand spanking-new network has delivered rock-solid performance ever since, said Kuhn, who is confident it will continue to do so in the long term. -This is an investment for the next five to eight years. We're looking at getting the same life out of this equipment as with the previous network."

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