“When a storm rolls in, it’s time for us to get busy.”
– Michael McKinney, Sr. IT Manager, Mid-South Synergy
As the second in our blog series on how early adopters are leveraging our new class of core and aggregation switches, we’ll continue exploring how infrastructure born in the mobile-cloud and IoT era is making a difference at an energy cooperative.
In our first blog, Simplicity Now, Simplicity Later: Aruba 8400, we learned how a coastal Texas school district relies on Aruba’s 8400 to simplify operations by providing always-on, high-performance connectivity without any day-to-day intervention from IT.
For this blog, we made a virtual trip inland to visit Mid-South Synergy, headquartered in Navasota, Texas. There, we talked with Michael McKinney, Sr. IT Manager, to discuss his experience with a recent core update to the Aruba 8400 Switch Series.
We understand Mid-South Synergy has a unique mandate and plays a critical role in the viability of your region. Can you tell us more?
As a non-profit rural electric cooperative, our approximately 120 employees are tasked with bringing electricity to over 24,000 members and 31,000 utility meters. Our service territory spreads across six counties totaling over 4,200 square miles, stretching north and west of the Houston suburbs.
However, we deliver more than just electricity. We also supply water, wastewater and Internet services, making our organization vital to the personal and economic health of our region.
This means individuals, families, schools, healthcare facilities and businesses count on us for cooling when it’s 100°F in the summer and keeping them connected to the outside world during winter ice storms. Because we’re affected by both tornadoes and hurricanes, we regularly experience disruptive weather that requires having the operational resiliency to keep us up and running while we restore power to our members.
How did all of these unique demands become drivers for adopting the Aruba 8400 networking switch at your organization?
Our existing core solution was not only becoming obsolete, but it was also too small to handle our projected connectivity demands. In addition to our headquarters, we require scalable, high-performance and resilient connectivity for three district offices, microwave towers, several remote equipment storage facilities and throughout our power distribution grid.
For example, we’re experiencing tremendous growth in IoT deployments as we move to smart grid technologies. One type of IoT device, called a recloser, is located at intervals along our distribution lines. This device enables us to gather data about the power running through the line and detect faults at each enabled location, which assists us with the restoration of power as well as for making adjustments to our power distribution to better serve our members
But that’s just the start. With all of our computing applications housed internally, our network must be functional all of the time. This includes our call center, which people expect to contact 24/7 no matter what the circumstances. When several thousand members are without power, our call center’s network – which relies on Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony – must be up and running to enable serving members and collecting outage data.
In other words, people have very high expectations of us and we’ve delivered on those expectations since 1942. Consequently, we hold our networking equipment to similarly high standards for availability, reliability, redundancy, scalability and versatility.
Why did you select the 8400 instead of another solution on the market?
As an existing wireless customer, we were already familiar with Aruba’s capabilities for delivering robust, high-performance solutions and excellent support.
Then, about a year ago, we were visiting the Aruba campus for a Wi-Fi demo and were impressed by a presentation on the forthcoming 8400. At the time, we were already beginning our switch upgrade evaluations. We were excited to learn that the 8400 would elevate core switching capabilities beyond anything we’d seen in the marketplace, including:
- API-enabled Programmability. We envisioned automating various actions, to streamline IT operations, which is always critical with such a lean staff. The Aruba 8400 is 100% programmable via REST APIs.
- Aruba Network Analytics Engine. The 8400 offered many possibilities for proactively managing our network with rules-based, real-time monitoring and intelligent notifications. We were also impressed with the analytics engine’s ability to speed troubleshooting, such as automatically correlating events with configuration changes.
- Intuitive UI. For visibility into traffic patterns and network connectivity, the new interface powered by the ArubaOS-CX software will enhance our configuration, administration, update and troubleshooting capabilities.
- Future-proof. With features we can grow into as new needs develop, the 8400 was the longevity choice. For example, although we run 10GbE and 40GbE now, the 8400’s fabric design makes it seamlessly upgradeable to 100GbE as our bandwidth needs to increase.
Can you tell us about your experience in deploying the switch?
Overall, the implementation went well. We set up our new 8400 behind a firewall to create a new network running in tandem with our existing solution. Once we had everything configured, cutover went smoothly with less than 15 minutes of downtime.
Along the way, we were challenged with transitioning from the proprietary routing protocol EIGRP [Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol] to utilizing the open standard OSPF [Open Shortest Path First]. However, Aruba’s knowledgeable support team helped tremendously. They were with us every step of the way to ensure we could resolve issues and optimize the configuration of our new core.
How about 8400’s benefits to your business, what have you experienced thus far?
By combining programmability with analytics, we can infuse our network with self-healing properties. This not only reduces network administration burdens, freeing us to concentrate on business-critical projects but also is vital to smooth operations during weather events. Unlike most businesses, where everyone goes home during a storm, we’re the opposite – when a storm rolls in, it’s time for us to get to work.
These needs make the 8400’s quality of service, high-availability and redundancy feature vital to fault tolerance at our core. For instance, our dispatch system, and the associated radios in our repair trucks use a VOIP radio system that works in conjunction with our microwave towers. All of this traffic runs through our 8400, making it imperative for the switch to supply voice communications free of jitter and delay.
Do you have any plans for the future that you’d like to share?
Yes. Given our positive experiences with the 8400, we intend to move forward with our plans to deploy a second switch for redundancy. In fact, the ability to easily run the 8400 in a dual-core network environment was part of our solution selection process. Upon finishing that deployment, we’ll have complete redundancy, even in the event of a catastrophic failure.
To learn more about how your modern mobile, cloud and IoT environment can benefit from the Aruba 8400’s flexible and innovative approach to new application, security and scalability demands, click here or contact your Aruba team.
Want to learn more about the 8400? Read Simplicity Now, Simplicity Later.