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Chapter 2. On the Job with a Network Man... > Sandy: Administrator and Planner in ...

Sandy: Administrator and Planner in an Internet Data Center

Meet Sandy. Sandy works in the Internet Data Center for a global Fortune 500 company, F500, Inc. The data center is at the center of the company’s intranet, extranet, and Internet presence: It hosts the company’s external website, which provides company and product information and connects customers to the online ordering system. More important, it is host to all the company’s crucial business data: its product documents and specifications, its customer data, and its supplier data. In addition, the data center hosts the company’s internal website through which most of this data can be accessed, given the proper access privileges.

F500, Inc.’s core business is not related to networking or high technology; it is a global consumer goods company. However, F500, Inc. decided that the functions provided by the Internet Data Center are so crucial to its business that it should not be outsourced. In the end, F500, Inc. differentiates itself from other companies not just through its products, but by the way the company organizes and manages its processes and value supply chains—functions for which the Internet Data Center is an essential component.

Sandy has been tasked with developing a plan for how to accommodate a new partner supplier. This will involve setting up the server and storage infrastructure for storing and sharing data that is critical for the business relationship. Also, an extranet over which the shared data can be accessed must be carved out. The extranet constitutes essentially its own Virtual Private Network that will be set up specifically for that purpose.

Sandy has a list of the databases that need to be shared; storage and network capacity must be assessed. Her plan is to set up a global directory structure for the file system in such a way that all data that pertains to the extranet is stored in a single directory subtree—perhaps a few, at most. She certainly does not want the data scattered across the board. Having it more consolidated will make many tasks easier. For example, she will need to define a strategy for automatic data backup and restoration. Of course, Sandy does not conduct backups manually; the software does that. Nevertheless, the backups need to be planned: where to back up to, when to back up, and how to redirect requests to access data to a redundant storage system while the backup is in progress.

Sandy’s main concern, however, is with security. Having data conceptually reside in a common directory subtree makes it much easier to build a security cocoon around it. Security is a big consideration—after all, F500, Inc. has several partners, and none of them should see each other’s data. A major part of the plan involves updating security policies—clearly defining who should be able to access what data. Those policies must be translated into configurations at several levels that involve the databases and hosts for the data, as well as the network components through which clients connect.

Several layers of security must be configured: Sandy needs to set up a new separate virtual LAN (VLAN) that will be dedicated to this extranet. A VLAN shares the same networking infrastructure as the rest of the data center network but defines a set of dedicated interfaces that will be used only by the VLAN; it allows the effective separation of traffic on the extranet from other network traffic. This way, extranet traffic cannot intentionally or unintentionally spill over to portions of the data center network that it is not intended for. The servers hosting the common directory subtree with the shared data will be connected to that VLAN. Sandy checks the network topology and identifies the network equipment that will be configured accordingly.

Figure 2-7 shows a typical screen from which networks can be configured. This particular screen allows the user to enter configuration parameters for a particular type of networking port.

Figure 2-7. Sample Screen of a Management Application That Allows the Configuration of Ports (Cisco WAN Manager 15.1)

In addition, access control lists (ACLs) on the routers need to be set up and updated to reflect the new security policy that should be in effect for this particular extranet. ACLs define rules that specify which type of network traffic is allowed between which locations, and which traffic should be blocked; in effect, they are used to build firewalls around the data. This creates the second layer of security.

Finally, authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA) servers need to be configured. AAA servers contain the privileges of individual users; when a client has connectivity to the server, access privileges are still enforced at the user and application levels. Any access to the data is logged. This way, it is possible to trace who accessed what information, in case it is ever required, such as for suspected security break-ins.

However, before she can proceed with any of that, Sandy needs to assess where the data will be hosted and any impact that could have on the internal data center topology. After all, without knowing what servers should be connected, it is premature to configure anything else. When the partner comes online, demand for the affected data is sure to increase.

Sandy pulls up the performance-analysis application. She is not interested in the current status of the Internet Data Center because operations personnel are looking after that. She is looking for the historical trends in performance and load. Sandy worries about the potential for bottlenecks, given that additional demand for data traffic and new traffic patterns can be expected. She takes a look at the performance statistics for the past month of the servers that are currently hosting the data. It seems they are fairly well utilized already. Also, disk space usage has been continuously increasing. At the current pace, disk space will run out in only a few more months. Of course, some of the data that is hosted on the servers is of no relevance to the partnership; in effect, it must be migrated and rehosted elsewhere. This should provide some relief. Still, it seems that, at a minimum, additional disks will be needed. Given the current system load, it might be necessary to bring a new server with additional capacity online and integrate it into the overall directory structure. Sandy might as well do this now. This way, she will not need to schedule an additional maintenance window later and can thus avoid a scheduled disruption of services in the data center.

Of course, the fact that data is kept redundantly in multiple places will be transparent (that is, invisible) to applications. All data is to be addressed using a common uniform resource identifier (URI). The data center uses a set of content switches that inspect the URI in a request for data and determine which particular server to route the request to. The content switch can serve as a load balancer in case the same data and same URI are hosted redundantly on multiple servers. The content switch is another component that must be configured so it knows about the new servers that are coming online and the data they contain. Sandy makes a mental note that she will need to incorporate this aspect into her plan.

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