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Managing a complex distributed network with better insight


December 20, 2010
By Anthony Capkun

December 20, 2010

A Case Study, submitted by Fluke Networks

For Corus Entertainment, it’s what the network team couldn’t see that was keeping them up at night. One of Canada’s most successful integrated media and entertainment companies, Corus has gone through a series of amalgamations and acquisitions over the past 10 years. It now has a rich portfolio of television services, radio stations and animated programming assets that travel over a global network.

As a result of all this acquisition activity, Corus ended up with a
collection of different networks managed by different divisions. To
streamline network management and improve overall performance, it
decided to bring together more than 20 of its remote locations under a
single cohesive network to be managed through its central offices in
Toronto. A critical tool in its network support portfolio is the
OptiView Series 3 integrated network analyzer.

A complex network
Corus started out with a frame relay network 10 years ago. Over time,
this evolved into a private wide area network circuit, with VPN links
for remote offices. For the most part, networks were managed at each
location, with broadcast traffic passed between locations without going
through a central hub.

“We didn’t have the traditional hub and spoke approach, since offices
needed to talk to each other,” explains Bil Manderson, manager, Special
Projects for Corus. “While email and internet traffic went through head
office, broadcast traffic was typically sent between sites without
coming through us.”

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This meant management wasn’t fully seeing what was happening on all the
networks, he adds. “That was a main issue. Even when we bolstered the
networks themselves, more often than not it was applications causing
slowdowns, so we needed more insight into that,” says Manderson.

To monitor network and application performance more efficiently and
effectively, Manderson and his team acquired two OptiView Series 3
integrated network analyzers from Fluke Networks. One is used for
monitoring at head office; the second is shipped out to remote locations
to perform troubleshooting functions when a problem is detected.

Looking beyond the surface
The ability to view network performance with the OptiView is especially
helpful when managing such a complex infrastructure, Manderson explains.
“The major problem we have is someone at a remote location plugging
something in the wrong spot and bringing down our own network at head
office. Trying to figure out what device, where it is, and what it’s
doing has always been a problem for us.”

While Corus did have a troubleshooting tool that pinpointed high traffic
on ports and WAN links, it didn’t provide the detail the team needed to
resolve issues. “We knew a network was slow, but didn’t know what was
going on,” Manderson says.

With OptiView, however, Corus can capitalize on its capabilities to
discover the root of a problem down to the port level. “It has saved us
so many times, because we can pinpoint problems down to the exact
location. If we ship one to a remote site for example, they can plug it
onto the network, get some history, and see if something is incorrectly
configured or it’s a bad NIC card. If there’s a broadcast storm,
OptiView tells us which switch it’s coming from and where that switch is
in the building.”

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He adds that this is a vast improvement from the previous
“needle-in-the-haystack” searches that could take hours—or even days—to
complete. “The tools we had might say there is a lot of data on this
port and how much, but it wouldn’t tell us the device or type of
traffic. We just knew there was a lot. With the OptiView, we can find
the source of a problem in minutes.”

A bad day at the office
To illustrate the value of the OptiView, Manderson tells the story of a
particularly bad day at the office. “Somebody had plugged a small home
switch into one of our corporate switches and caused a loopback. That
brought down our entire animation office. We had 600 users who couldn’t
do a thing. With the OptiView we had the problem resolved in 20 minutes,
because we could see what ports on what switch had the loopback.
Without it, we would have had to shut down 32 switches in four wiring
closets one by one to see which one was causing the problem. That was
two years ago and we still talk about that day.”

Recently, Corus’ head office operations have been transitioning from a
campus environment of eight buildings to a single location. Manderson
says that with the new setup, he is now ready to explore options such as
VoIP and wireless. “We’ll be tapping into OptiView to help us pattern
traffic and troubleshoot,” he says.

“We’ve been working with OptiView for a long time. It’s just one of
those godsend tools that we consider ourselves lucky to have.”