Welcome to a new year and a new semester! As VCU and Richmond brace for a possible “snow event,” I thought I would focus the first CIO Update of 2016 on some of the critical work we are doing to maintain and upgrade our IT infrastructure.
University Fiber Installation Projects
Multiple projects requiring significant investment in fiber optic infrastructure are currently underway at VCU. Some of these projects will tie in recently acquired properties or prepare for demolition and replacement of existing buildings. Still others are part of the comprehensive fiber upgrade plan that was developed to support network speeds of 40Gbs (Gigabits per Second) that will be required in the near future, and eventually speeds as high as 100Gbs. The plan also addresses topology issues, as well as providing pathway redundancy to help provide disaster continuity in the event of damage to the infrastructure:
- Fiber to the new VCU Police building at 224 East Broad is about 90% complete, with all underground conduit work completed and the fiber pulled up to the building entrance.
- Construction on the Children’s Hospital of Richmond-Pavilion is nearing completion. The target date for network activation is early January, with occupancy of the building scheduled for March 2016.
- The School of Engineering has recently secured space in the Biotechnology Park Building 8. VCU networking will be supported by extending fiber through VCU Health System space as part of the build-out of the Engineering site.
- Previously the Media General building, 111 North 4th Street will house Development and Alumni Relations later this spring. About 300 feet of 4th Street will be excavated to install conduit and fiber from the Southern Loop, an existing cross-campus fiber system.
- An aerial portion of the Southern Loop was recently damaged by a squirrel. The damaged fibers have been temporarily bypassed so service is not currently affected, and restoration should be completed by the start of the spring semester.
- Planning for fiber reconfiguration at Gladdings Residence Center has started. Both VCU fiber and Verizon voice services will need to be relocated before May 2016.
- Plans for supporting the demolition of the MCV campus low rise dorms (Bear, Rudd, Warner, & McRae) and the building of a School of Allied Health Professions Building are also well under way.
- Improving the Southern Loop fiber is also critical to the overall campus fiber upgrade plans. The Southern Loop improvement will be handled in two phases.
- Phase 1 will be between Pocahontas Building and Snead Hall. After working through some fairly complex conduit issues, we can begin installation of about 10,000 feet of 432-strand fiber cable between locations.
- Phase 2 will be between Snead Hall and Harris Hall. We will need to build a new pathway from Harris Hall all the way to Belvidere; ideally this will be all underground to help protect this vital fiber route from potential weather damage, errant vehicles, and as we have recently learned, squirrels with a need to gnaw.
F5 Big-IP Load Balancer Project
After a number of years of providing load balancing services, Cisco announced in 2014 that these services would not be part of its portfolio after the first quarter of 2016. With that realization, a replacement for VCU’s Cisco ACE Load Balancer had to be identified, procured, and stood up in order to keep key services functioning. After an extensive evaluation period, F5’s Big-IP appliance was selected to carry the torch forward. F5 Big-IP is the industry leading solution for all high-use load balancing as well as future proofing the demands of web based firewalling and applications awareness for software defined networking (SDN) and zero day mitigations of vulnerabilities.
Enterprise critical services such as Banner, eDIR, CAS, PubInfo, Web and RealTime were migrated to the new appliance in December 2015 – ahead of schedule. With the new hardware, comes improved performance as well as allowing for more flexibility in configuration of highly technical requirements. Currently all enterprise applications which are load balanced have their SSL certificates hosted on the F5 Big-IP which allows for simple management and compliancy. Investigations are underway to leverage this ability to provide more simplicity for certificate support to the whole of the VCU community.
Upgrade Nexus Switches in the Data Centers
In a continuous effort to provide a robust and scalable network infrastructure, the large Nexus data switches supporting UCC and Harris Hall data centers are scheduled to be upgraded to the new Nexus 7710 model by mid-summer. This will provide an 80 gigabit aggregation mesh network (with 160 gigabit mess possible) binding both datacenters and thereby providing ample bandwidth for the anticipated growth in research and virtualization usage. 40 gigabit connections can be supported immediately with 100 gigabit connections possible in the future. Current designs have dedicated 10 gigabit connectivity for large servers as well as combined 1 gigabit uplinks for legacy system. Future work will include the collapsing of the university’s campus core network onto a highly secure routing plane on the Nexus 7710 switches as well as increasing the expanse of ResearchNet and the campus data centers.
Best wishes to all as we tackle what will hopefully be manageable weather challenges!