When Mark Meier, Oklahoma City’s IT director, first began evaluating 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology, his first reaction was that it might be “a bit excessive.” But after he crunched the numbers, the decision to implement 10Gig-E links between the city’s three data centers was a cost-effective no-brainer.
“I made my guys jump through hoops, demonstrate the costs and do all kinds of projections on bandwidth requirements,” Meier says. “In retrospect, the decision was really obvious. 10Gig-E was not something we stretched for in order to justify the dollars. It really was the most cost-effective solution for what we were trying to achieve.”
Oklahoma City evaluated 10Gig-E in late 2003–early 2004 when it was in the midst of building out a municipal Wi-Fi network to serve the city’s public-safety officers, inspectors and others. “At the time, public-safety officers in the field had very limited information,” Meier says. “Firefighters didn’t have access to building blueprints. Officers didn’t have access to suspects’ pictures. They had very little access to the things they needed to do their job in an effective way.”
With wireless in place, Meier said, the city as a whole could take advantage of remote access for data, not only for public safety, but also more day-to-day issues, such as enabling city inspectors to update the status of building inspections instantly. The problem was security, since the far-flung Wi-Fi network penetrated the internal city network at 168 points. “I needed 168 different firewalls scattered throughout 621 square miles, and I had no additional staff,” Meier says.
The city chose to implement Cisco Systems’ Firewall Services Module (FWSM) at each penetration point and paired each with a redundant FWSM, a setup that led to increased bandwidth requirements. “When one FWSM fails over to the other, there’s up to 6GB or more of data that’s transferred back and forth between those units,” Meier says.
The city could have cobbled together several 1GB links to meet the requirement, but quickly found that implementing 10Gig-E cost 40 percent less.
“Assuming your demands will require [10Gig-E] at some point, doing it piecemeal costs much more than if you just commit to a single [10Gig-E] pipe right at the start,” Meier explains.
The city already had a Cisco Systems network in place and decided to stay with the vendor for cost and simplicity. “At the time, there really weren’t any big players that we were comfortable considering,” Meier says. “Cisco was a part of our platform and a part of our support structure, and so for us it was a hand-in-glove match and made absolute sense to go with a Cisco solution.” The 8-port 10Gig-E module “plugged into the [Cisco 6500] chassis that we already had, and it worked with our existing management methodologies and tools. It was the best alternative for us.” The 10Gig-E took four network staffers and two security workers just 60 days to get the links up and running.
Now, the city runs 10Gig-E between the three data centers, and 1GB down to as many as 300 network closets residing in 144 different sites across the city. From there, the city runs 100MB Ethernet down to the desktop.
In addition to securing its wireless infrastructure, 10Gig-E has enabled Oklahoma City to implement more than 200 new applications that ensure its citizens and employees receive optimal services at minimal cost.
“The way we design systems, the way we ensure our integrity, confidentiality and availability is completely different now than it was before 10Gig-E,” Meier says. “Other cities talk about how they simply can’t make certain choices because, for them, it would be a major cost. For us, it’s just a base part of our infrastructure that provides the bandwidth requirements necessary to do the things we need to do.”
For example, the city has rolled out a closed-caption TV system that lets authorized desktop users or mobile units view video from more than 300 cameras across the city. “Distribution of this video, which is an extraordinary quantity of data – an amazing amount of bandwidth – would not have been possible without 10Gig-E,” Meier says.
In addition, it makes the city’s data centers truly redundant, allowing for real-time backups among the three sites. “We’re able to take advantage of the native data replication technologies that exist in some of our products, like the latest releases from Microsoft,” explains Frank Ferchau, infrastructure manager for the city. “SQL Server 2005 and Exchange 2007 have real-time data mirroring capabilities built-in, with automatic fail-over. So we can replicate multiple Exchange stores in real time, or 100GB databases in real time, as transactions are happening. And we don’t have to worry about consuming that pipe.”
And because everything — production data as well as backups — runs over the same pipe, management and security are far easier, Ferchau says. “It negates the need for some type of back-end network. We just have one, large homogenous path for data.”
The 10Gig-E network also supports a new geographical information system (GIS) that provides mapping services within several city-developed applications, and it also has enabled the city to expand use of its Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system.
Oklahoma City ranks just 29th in the U.S. in terms of population. It also ranks fairly low in terms of IT budget, in the bottom 10 percent as a percentage of overall budget — all of which makes decisions like adopting 10Gig-E even more critical. “This was not done lightly,” Meier says.
Still, Oklahoma City has done far more in terms of applications and services than others with deeper pockets. “In the big-city picture, we’re very small and we have a very small reputation,” Meier says. “But in a lot of cases, we’re exceeding what larger cities have achieved using many times the dollars.”
Although adopting 10Gig-E for Oklahoma City has more than paid off, Mark Meier, director of IT for the city, says it never would have succeeded unless his organization first had the proper strategy in place.
“Every time I’ve seen failed technology implementations in organizations, it’s associated with a failed political strategy or a failed management direction, not the technology,” he says. “In city IT, you need the vision, strategy and IT all coming together.”
And that takes farsighted and consistent city leadership. “You cannot succeed with an ever-changing direction,” Meier says. “Sometimes I think the politicians don’t realize the significance of their approach. Our city manager, Jim Couch, and assistant city manager Kathy O’Connor really set the direction and said this is the way it’s going to go. The success was due to their commitment, vision and direction-setting. IT just carries out that direction.”
For IT executives struggling with less-established city managers or councils, however, Meier recommends changing the nature of the discussion.
“You have to move the discussion away from pieces and parts — 10Gig-E doesn’t matter,” he says. “The discussion has to be about what we’re trying to achieve, what the cost is, what value it brings,” he says. “Instead of pursuing $40,000 for network improvements, you say, ‘We want to allow the officer in the field and the public-works inspector to achieve these goals. And this is what they’ll need in their hands, and this is how reliable it is and how much security is required, and this is the technology that will do that.’ 10Gig-E is just a tool.”