From DEC to Allied Telesis – Butler County Evolves Its Data, Voice and Video Network

We wanted to make a decision on a product line that
we were going to stick with
.”
– Mike Felerski, Network Manager, Butler County

End of Life for DEC Networking Equipment

The networking equipment that Butler County relied on was about to be discontinued. At that time in 2003, Butler County, Ohio, used IT systems originally supplied by Digital Equipment Corporate (DEC). It ran VAX and Alpha systems and employed DEC networking equipment to connect its 28 government sites spread around the county. Unfortunately DEC is one of many once-great computer companies that no longer exist, having succumbed to the rapid pace of innovation and creative destruction that characterize the computer industry. At its peak it was the second-largest computer company in the world, but today it is only a memorable icon of the minicomputer era. As for Butler County, it needed to find a new networking equipment vendor to supply its aging network infrastructure.

Butler County is located just north of Cincinnati, sandwiched between the metro areas of Cincinnati and Dayton. In recent years it has been one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. With growth comes the need to build out infrastructure to serve its citizens.

At about the same time in 2003, a commissioner had the foresight to encourage the county to build a high-speed fiber optic ring that tied together its distributed government sites, and whose bandwidth might also be offered to businesses to encourage investment and development. This furthered the need to invest in new networking equipment.

“We wanted to make a decision on a product line that we were going to stick with. We didn’t want to hop around and try to find something else later. So we started looking at all the big names,” said Mike Felerski, Network Manager for Butler County. The requirement was for layer 2 switches and layer 3 switches for routing, including a scalable core switch to be located at its main Government Services Center.

Switch to Allied Telesis

After testing and evaluating products from multiple manufacturers, it chose to standardize on networking equipment from Allied Telesis. One feature that tipped the scales in its favor was that Allied Telesis did not charge extra to run the OSPF routing protocol on its switches. Butler County had already standardized on OSPF, and the other vendors in consideration wanted to charge for an additional license for it.

Felerski continued, “We also liked the way Allied was built. There are some jokes in the industry about how Allied must have an investment in steel companies because there is a lot of metal in their boxes. They’re built really well. Some older gear from Allied ended up in harsh environments where you wouldn’t want to put normal network equipment, and it survived.”

“Putting all these pieces together, we were happy with the price and the fact that the equipment did what it needed to do – that took us to Allied.”

The county deployed the new switches incrementally over time. “The IS department doesn’t have a huge capital improvements budget, so we rely on other departments. They propose projects for a move, expansion or remodel, and have money set aside for PCs and networking. So every time there was a change, we would go through and replace the Digital equipment. We eventually replaced the core switch at the Government Services Center, which was a MultiSwitch 900 from Digital, with the Allied SwitchBlade x908,” he said.

Voice over IP System

In the last year and a half, Butler County deployed a voice over IP (VOIP) system from Avaya. VOIP is more cost-effective than a traditional phone service because it uses a low-cost IP networks to send voice communication. In this case, all voice communication within the county government ran over its fiber-optic network. VOIP also enables more advanced features such as integration with email, video and contact management software.

To support the VOIP system, the county put in 8000 series PoE (Power over-Ethernet) switches from Allied Telesis to connect IP phones at each desk. These switches supply power to low-wattage devices so they do not require power adapters. Without the tether of a power cord, the IP phones can be placed anywhere that an Ethernet cable will reach.

“We had replaced a lot of the equipment over the years with the Allied gear and felt confident about the network. So it was time to replace the layer 2 switches and get the PoE switches to support the voice network,” said Felerski.

Radio System for Sheriff’s Department

Another major project was the sheriff department’s 800 MHz radio system. The county enlisted Motorola to build a radio system that would enable its disparate law enforcement agencies and fire departments to communicate with each other.

Motorola required T1 lines to connect each 911 and dispatch center. These are typically leased from telecommunications companies. Felerski added, “We are a county that has three different phone companies – Cincinnati Bell, AT&T and Verizon. Any time you have T1 lines crossing LATAs, it costs a good piece of change even with a government discount, if you can get one. When this project was brought to the commissioners, they looked at it and said, ‘Wow, this is impressive, but we have this fiber optic ring that passes either through or near every one of these dispatch centers. Why can’t we use that?’”

Felerski and his colleague Tom Line were tasked with finding a way to provide T1 services over the fiber optic network, and thereby saving a significant amount in data communications costs for the new radio system. Felerski was aware Allied supplied equipment for this purpose, so he discussed it with them and began researching equipment. “I said, ‘Here is the design I came up with. Let me know if this is going to work the way I understand this equipment.’ And they took a few days and went through it and said, ‘That is basically how we would design it.’ So we went ahead, ordered the equipment and put it in place. Allied was there at every step to make suggestions on how to tweak the equipment to get it to do what Motorola wanted,” he said.

Security Video over Network

Video for security cameras also runs over the network. A conversion project is underway to replace analog cameras in government facilities with IP cameras that connect directly to the network and stream video over it. They are also powered by PoE switches, so the cameras can be placed virtually anywhere. All video will eventually feed to the sheriff’s department, where law enforcements agents will be able to view real-time and historical footage at government sites all around the county.

In addition, the courts sometimes use the network for video arraignments.

Two Managers for One County Network

Felerski and Line use the AlliedView software management tool to centrally manage the network. “We have been very careful not to cut any corners because we don’t have a lot of people on staff. When we build out the network, we try not to break any rules. And with AlliedView and the fact that the product works very well, two of us can manage it,” said Felerski. “We have 5,860 ports that the management system can see. We were really surprised when we saw that number. We are responsible for a lot more than we thought.”

Everything Working Well

The quality of the networking products has been high. “Out of over 200 switches we have received from Allied, I don’t think anything has come in DOA,” he said. “We had to drop in all those POE switches for the VOIP project. They shipped us pallet loads of switches. We brought them in, unpacked them and just rolled them out.”

Felerski is pleased with the overall state of the network today: “We feel really good. There are just a couple of locations where we might replace an older switch with the newer X900 or X600 models – just to clean things up. Now of course Allied would like to sell us more gear, but everything is working well. That doesn’t do much for their sales, but it really makes our folks happy – that’s for sure.”

Looking forward, Felerski is certain the network will continue to grow and evolve to support the requirements of the county. “Government is always changing,” he said.

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