Cox Communications Puts the Network to a Test

Managing and operating IT test environments is no simple task. In many cases, it requires substantial resources. For Cox Communications, which provides cable television, Internet and digital phone services to 6.2 million customers throughout the U.S., designing and building next-generation systems and services—including routers, switches and networking equipment—is critical.

“The test environment is the size of small data centers and the scope of some of our testing is substantial,” said Phil Bedard, principal design engineer for Atlanta-based Cox Communications.

In the past, the company’s lab conducted tests using actual hardware. However, the approach was time consuming and relatively expensive. Not surprisingly, this impacted results and slowed adoption of new systems. As a result, Cox has migrated to software-based testing, particularly for software defined networking (SDN)-enabled applications. This translates into a greater need for servers and storage. In fact, provisioning systems and storage quickly to accommodate projects is nothing short of critical.

“In the past, there wasn’t a storage pool available to spin up for testing applications. It could take two months or longer to put the necessary hardware and other systems in place and begin testing,” Bedard said.

In order to address the challenge Cox Communications turned to NexentaConnect for VMware VSAN.

“We were at the point where we had to purchase additional storage appliances or purchase a single server that would have only addressed the short-term problem,” he said. However, after the company began using the Nexenta Systems solution in June 2015, a transformation took place. “We achieved a level of agility and flexibility that wasn’t available in the past. We are now able to share VSAN storage across lots of different nodes in our lab data center environment,” Bedard said.

The result is a roughly 150-terabyte VSAN pool. Consequently, it now takes engineers and others only 5 or 10 minutes to establish or tweak a test environment that, in the past, required days or weeks to provision. Moreover, Bedard said, the technology provides a high level of data compression, which saves additional money and IT resources. Finally, the storage approach greatly reduces the need to deal with multiple vendors and specific requirements.

“It a far more streamlined way to approach IT,” he said.

So far, six internal groups have gone live with the system and more will follow. Most users have been eager to make the transition, though Bedard stated that, in some cases, “people are still trying to figure out the best way to leverage the technology and transition from existing platforms to the new platform.” At this point, Bedard said the company is looking to expand the use of the VSAN pool to other groups, possibly for backup storage in test and actual production environments.

“The solution runs on a VSAN and on VMware and it is highly available. We are able to do things in this environment that we could not do within a standalone storage framework. If a host dies or we need to move the Nexenta software to a different node, it’s a very simple and straightforward process. Overall, we’ve taken a giant step forward,” he said.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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