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Adventures in the Evolution of a High-Bandwidth Network for Central Server

Karl L. Swartz, Les Cottrell, and Marty Dart
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center


In a small network, clients and servers may all be connected to a single Ethernet without significant performance concerns. As the number of clients on a network grows, the necessity of splitting the network into multiple sub-networks, each with a manageable number of clients, becomes clear.

Less obvious is what to do with the servers. Group file servers on subnets and multi-homed servers offer only partial solutions - many other types of servers do not lend themselves to a decentralized model, and tend to collect on another, well- connected but overloaded Ethernet. The higher speed of FDDI seems to offer an easy solution, but in practice both expense and interoperability problems render FDDI a poor choice. Ethernet switches appear to permit cheaper and more reliable networking to the servers while providing an aggregate network bandwidth greater than a simple Ethernet.

This paper studies the evolution of the server networks at SLAC. Difficulties encountered in the deployment of FDDI are described, as are the tools and techniques used to characterize the traffic patterns on the server network. Performance of Ethernet, FDDI, and switched Ethernet networks is analyzed, as are reliability and maintainability issues for these alternatives. The motivations for re-designing the SLAC general server network to use a switched Ethernet instead of FDDI are described, as are the reasons for choosing FDDI for the farm and firewall networks at SLAC. Guidelines are developed which may help in making this choice for other networks.

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