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Hooking Up

Dell PowerConnect 5324.

Figure 3: Dell PowerConnect 5324.

Once the components were chosen, setup was more straightforward. After adding a domain controller and DHCP server on the Windows 2003 server, I simply plugged it into a port on the Dell PowerConnect 5324 and used HyperTerminal to configure it to recognize the DHCP server. Once I checked the IP addresses that were being handed out were ok, it was simply a matter of connecting the media fileservers and backup servers to the switches and running those servers into another set of switches which I then ran into Ethernet ports in each of the workstation cubicles.

The transfer of hundreds of gigabytes of video and audio files per hour between the media fileservers, backup servers and clients was a key concern in this network. This extremely heavy data flow could potentially slow the network to a crawl if the network wasn't properly configured. Fortunately, "jumbo" frames were created specifically to help with data flows similar to mine and I decided to use the maximum MTU size (at the time) of 9K.

But jumbo frames were disabled by default on the 5324. However, correcting the problem was simple because the 5324—like most managed switches—comes with a very simple, web-based GUI. All I had to do was to log into the switch, navigate to the System -> Advanced Settings -> General Settings page and change the Jumbo Frame setting.

I also had to replace some of the older 10/100 Ethernet cards that were present in a few of the workstations with gigabit NICs from Signamax. Between the switches, cabling, and network interface cards, I had pretty much the most solid hardware base that I could conceive to fit the situation. Jumbo frames were enabled on all the switches, the user and security policies were set up, and the fileservers were ready to go.

Now it was time to see if this puppy could fly.

I turned the post-production crew loose on their machines and they began image acquisition and encoding. I wanted to get as many of them going as possible while I monitored network performance from the media fileserver to the clients and backup media fileserver. The results had me grinning into my clip board. Full duplex speeds were averaging about 25 megabytes a second—nearly a gig and a half per minute!

For the moment, non-server related activity such as e-mail, web browsing, and FTP seemed largely unaffected by the large file transfers that were going on in the background. The editors could send small clips back and forth to each other while hundreds of gigs of footage were being captured and digitized, and still be able to check their email and access the various logs and databases with very little interruption.

I even managed to set up a few interim Cisco access points for the office personnel that had mainly been working out of their hotels. But they were now showing up in increasing numbers on the neo-contemporary couches (which were now accompanied by shag rugs) which served as temporary departmental divisions. It was a simple matter of hanging the access points off of the switches, configuring them to recognize the DHCP server, and setting up WPA-AES encryption (all of these things I would later revise and streamline, which you'll hear about in Part 3)

One of my main concerns was that the addition of the other file servers (PR, Accounting, Administration, Legal, etc…) and their respective users might cause bottlenecks once all of them were regularly using the network at the same time. Considering this was the movie business—with deadlines, press releases, and maybe a sudden crunch for something like “opening night”—it was inevitable. The network had to handle the load of everybody intensely active on the main network at the same time, plus the additional 2-3X load of hourly backups.

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