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Decide and Conquer

Everything seemed to be happening so fast—yet working so effectively in its own odd way—that I figured I might as well jump right in. The “office" personnel (accounting, PR, legal dept, etc…) seemed to be an immediate priority, but I also wanted to get the video editors and graphic design artists up and running. So the first question I had to answer was: “What kind of a network am I going to build?”

Given the M.A.S.H. “mobile headquarters” feel of the place, and the fact that the majority of the office personnel were using, and would continue to use, laptops for the remainder of their stay in this rented warehouse, I decided that wireless networking would play an important role in the design. I also had to take the high volume of large files being transferred over the network into consideration. Given the number of workstations that had been wheeled in, the types of files (and fact that they’d be doing hourly backups), I decided that nothing less than a solid gigabit Ethernet network supporting jumbo frames would do.

But would the constant flow of information back and forth between the post production editors slow down the workflow of the office personnel? What type of wireless system would be most effective in this large warehouse environment? Should the less-demanding network traffic be offloaded on a different network altogether and later patched into the rest of the group?

I decided my first priority should be to get the production people up and running as quickly as possible so that I could gauge the kind of stress that extremely large file sharing and transfer would put on the main network. Since the office personnel already had some sort of a stopgap solution going, and the post-production crew were just sort of lounging around waiting for something to do, I enlisted the aid of a few of them to help me construct their network.

The basic layout for the main network.

Figure 1: The basic layout for the main network.

Figure 1 shows the machine-to-machine layout of the base network that I decided to build. Note that, in this instance, the Windows 2003 Server machine that is operating the Domain Controller is also running the network's DHCP Server. (There is also a backup Domain Controller and DHCP Server so that, just in case there's a problem with the main server, productivity will be uninterrupted.) The firewall is connected to the domain controller via the first switch and is set up to send only to the Domain Controller. A more comprehensive look at how switches and clients are connected can be found in Figure 4.

The first thing I had to do was secure some extremely high quality CAT 6 cabling. For many in the networking field this is a no-brainer. But imagine getting a 3000 watt RMS 7.1 (or even an 8.1) Dolby Digital Surround System with a six foot tall subwoofer and stadium-sized speakers and then trying to connect it all together with clipped headphone wires.

Given the nature of what I knew these people were going to be working on, I wanted the fastest, but also the most reliable network I could build in as short a period of time as possible. And the veins of that network would be good CAT 6.

Cisco's PIX 525 Firewall.

Figure 2: Cisco's PIX 525 Firewall.

For a firewall, I went with the Cisco PIX 525 (as opposed to some of the newer models), largely because I was familiar with the unit and it has 128 MB of RAM and supports a gigabit Ethernet expansion card. Other noteworthy features are an integrated VPN accelerator and failover support.

The 525 went through a Xeon-powered Windows 2003 Server set up to handle domain control and DHCP functions. Dell PowerConnect 5324 managed switches connected the domain controller to the media file servers and backup servers with another set of switches connected to the clients.

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