Several times a year, Cisco Live offers thousands of attendees the opportunity to learn about new and exciting technologies, network with a lot of smart folks, and have a blast while doing it. For me, Cisco Live offers an exciting opportunity as well.


As a Technical Marketing Engineer on the Converged Infrastructure team at NetApp, I get the opportunity to create a lot of data center designs in a year, but I don’t typically get to do the day-to-day support of the FlexPod for thousands of people. Cisco Live gives me the opportunity to do that and talk to attendees about the experience throughout the week as a member of the Network Operations Center (NOC) team. NetApp has been the official storage provider of the NOC for several years now, ever since the decision to collaborate on the infrastructure and run Cisco Live on a FlexPod.


The Cisco Live NOC team provides a vital role at the conference. We are a service provider for all of the Cisco employees, vendors, and attendees – ensuring everyone receives a reliable internet connection with great performance. We deploy a staggering amount of hardware during the week before the show, which we refer to as the setup week.


Before we can get to the thousands of access points and switches that need to be deployed, we need to get our FlexPod up and running. For almost 5 years now, the data center at the core of Cisco Live has been a FlexPod Datacenter – a Cisco and NetApp converged infrastructure that combines best practices and industry leading support. The FlexPod Datacenter is where we run all of the applications required to configure, monitor, and maintain the network. These applications include video surveillance, WAN optimization, wireless network management, a lot of custom applications, just to name a few.


This summer at Cisco Live US in Orlando, we’re exciting to once again be running Cisco Live on a FlexPod containing 2 Cisco UCS Blade chassis, 2 Cisco Nexus 7Ks, and 4 NetApp AFF 8060s in a MetroCluster configuration. We designed this infrastructure with a few considerations in mind.


The primary design consideration for our infrastructure is business continuity. During the setup week, there are a lot of things going on, and with hundreds of people on site tearing down from past conferences while also setting up for Cisco Live, there is plenty of opportunity for accidents. For example, at Cisco Live Europe in Barcelona, an electrician pulled the power on one of our data centers, thinking it was used for the hairstyling convention that had just ended.


As part of the NOC team, it’s crucial that we continue to serve data and run the applications despite any issues we encounter with any part of the infrastructure, even the entire data center. For that, we turned to NetApp MetroCluster – a solution which synchronously mirrors your data between two data centers and has enough redundancy built in that you could lose a full data center, failover and continue serving data. With the MetroCluster as our storage solution, we are able to failover to the surviving data center with people cut the breaker to our data center, continue serving data, and switch control back once we have regained power.

In addition to business continuity, the flexibility and performance of the infrastructure is very important. Because of the fast-moving environment at Cisco Live, we often don’t have good requirements until right before the show. Because of this, we need a data center infrastructure that is flexible enough to handle all kinds of different workloads and protocols. Regardless of the chosen data center design, it needs to perform well. All Flash FAS is perfect as a platform that provides all the features we need combined with great performance.


At Cisco Live Barcelona this year, we planned on implementing Fibre Channel through the Cisco Nexus 5548. This required 2 Fibre Channel ISLs between the sites in addition to the Ethernet ISLs which we had for NFS traffic. At the last minute, the venue communicated that there were not enough links between the data centers and the plans would need to be changed. All Flash FAS made this an easy decision. It cost us just a small amount of time to convert our SAN boot infrastructure from Fibre Channel to iSCSI. With some storage controllers, this flexibility isn’t available. Regardless of any design we’ve chosen for Cisco Live, the All Flash FAS has been able to consistently respond to IOs with sub-millisecond latency. The NOC team has found that the controllers are capable of great performance with any workload that we choose.


One great thing about the NOC at Cisco Live US is that you can see all the infrastructure being used by stopping by the NOC booth in The Hub. We’d love for any attendees at CLUS in Orlando to swing by and talk about the infrastructure and any other NOC related things you’re interested in!


Aaron Kirk

Aaron Kirk is a Technical Marketing Engineer in the NetApp Converged Infrastructure Engineering team. He focuses on producing validated reference architectures that promote the benefits of end-to-end data center solutions and cloud environments. Aaron has been at NetApp since 2010, previously working as an engineer on MetroCluster in the Data Protection Group.