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Failure was not an option: combining blade server technology with software creates a unified computing platform.

Seattle-based CRG plans events of all sizes, from executive retreats to product launches, and also provides professional services and Web-based applications for event planning, event registration and event management.

Like many businesses, CRG relies heavily on the Interact to service its clients. Custom-built and "shrink-wrapped" registration Web sites are among its key offerings. Each Web site is equipped with a real-time reporting engine that clients can access to retrieve data. Clients can choose from a menu of drop-in tools that centralize event owner responsibilities into one application. These Web-based tools help to streamline management tasks, facilitate data retrieval, mad monitor and simplify the registration process.

With as many as 20 high-profile events occurring simultaneously, each with potentially thousands of applicants registerine at the site, the goal of 24/7 high availability and efficient load balancing of the large amounts and various types of traffic was of paramount importance. In addition, CRG faced critical availability challenges for its internal personnel accessing the system, as well as additional traffic generated by its peer-to-peer networking system. Failure of any aspect of these sites or applications was not an option.

"We needed to achieve as close to 100% uptime as possible," says Scott Hankinson, vice president of information technology for CRG. "We also needed to know that whenever we had to run updates, or run maintenance on the system, that we would avoid downtime. There was really no other option for us than to have continuous availability."

As CRG continued to Web-enable its core enterprise applications, the need for high availability, scale, security, performance optimization and easy management far its IP applications intensified. Blade servers--ultra-dense, servers on a board, interconnected in a single chassis anti stacked within a rack like library books on a shelf--were brought in to provide new economies of scale in computing, while reducing power requirements, saving space and improving hardware management.

In order to harness and maximize the true potential of this blade server investment, however, CRG also required another solution that could easily unify the independent application and server resources, presenting them as one. By combining blade server technology with BIG-IP Blade Controller software from F5 Networks, CRG was able to create a highly scaleable and unified computing platform, while ensuring that its blade servers and applications were always available, secure and performing optimally.

To put this combined system into practice, CRG worked with PacketDrivers, a networking services company that provided guidance on blade server technology, as well as BIG-IP Blade Controller installation and configuration within the blade environment. According to Scott Hamlin, managing partner at PacketDrivers, "Installation was easy. Within an hour, we had the operating system installed and configured on a blade, and had set up the configuration in terms of the different Web sites."

For CRG, the software offered several key benefits. First, its blade servers perform better--with individual blades tied together to create a flexible and powerful computing platform for the applications running on them. The software's load-balancing capabilities allow IP traffic to be intercepted, inspected, transformed and directed to the most optimal resource (server/ application) at any given time, thus keeping the system always highly available. Because the software permits cost-effective horizontal scaling of applications through the purchase of additional server blades, CRG can easily increase the number of users accessing applications without breaking the bank.

"We're using a two-chassis arrangement with F5 BIG-IP blades in each chassis to extend our failover capabilities," says Hamlin. "Any one of the chassis, or any part thereof, can be taken out without affecting the availability of the system. That also gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of traffic levels. We don't chink we'll ever max out the configuration we have, but if we do, we can just drop in another low-cost blade and configure it in a short amount of time."

Ultimately, though, the improved cost of ownership was a key deciding factor in going with both blade server technology and the software solution. "With the release of blades, and the applications within the blades, our system costs have been cut in half," says Hankinson. "Additionally, we just dropped in a couple of blades to handle our load balancing/high availability needs, and we were done."

Blade control software

F5 Networks' BIG-IP Blade Controller software manages and directs traffic for all IP-based application, including Web servers, application servers, caches and firewalls running inside the blade server chassis. The controller ensures high availability of the blade servers and applications; provides intelligent traffic-management direction across services or applications running inside a blade server Chassis System; enhances scalability by teaming servers into virtual pools; increases security, of applications via SSL and firewall-like features; reduces management complexities of the infrastructure; and enables easy addition of servers and applications to scale services rapidly. The controller combines standard Layer 2-3 networking and Layer 4-7 traffic management to increase blade server, application and network capacities. Price: single: $6,500; redundant: $12,000.

For more information from F5 Networks: www.rsleads.cem/310cn-251
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Title Annotation:Wide Area Networks; Seattle-based CRG
Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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