A Gigabit Ethernet upgrade eliminates transmission bottlenecks and reduces design time.
One of the nation`s largest design firms, the Designory inc. (Long Beach, CA) provides creative design services for high-end companies such as Mercedes and Porsche. The company`s recent network upgrade is pushing technology to the limits and even redefining its application in the advertising-design industry. With the agency`s network backbone upgraded to Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) and full-duplex 100Base-T connections to the desktop, artists, designers, and account managers have the tools to produce more work in less time, giving them more time to spend on creative work.
When he joined the Designory last year, information-systems director Gian Zoppo was faced with the challenge of leveraging network technology for use with design documents that are thousands of times larger than typical business documents. The agency`s goal was to use a server-based computing model throughout the organization, not just on the operations side. Although server-based computing has been used in the corporate world for many years, network transfer rates were not fast enough for the model to be used on the advertising-design side.
"The designers were really hesitant to use the servers," notes Zoppo. "Our 10-megabit-per-second Ethernet network just couldn`t keep up with the huge file sizes, some as large as 1 gigabyte. It could take up to 30 min to open or save files. Designers would work locally and bypass the servers completely. They would only copy files back to the server when all the work was completed. When you`re working on a tight deadline and need to get a project out the door, a half-hour is a long time. This left many files off the servers and out of the nightly backups. Often, it meant that several different versions of the same file existed in several different places. It was hard to know which file was the correct one."
Zoppo began exploring options for expanding the capabilities and upgrading the performance of the network and servers (see "Gigabit Ethernet changes network behavior," page 19). After looking at systems based on Fibre Channel, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (atm), and High-performance Parallel Interface (hippi), the Designory`s technology team decided that a GbE fiber backbone with full-duplex 100Base-T connections to the desktop would be the most cost-effective solution.
Rapid network growth
The company has undergone many changes in the last five years. When Alan Gillies, computer systems manager for the Designory, first contracted with PacifiCom (Irvine, CA), a design and installation contractor, in 1994, the Designory was located entirely on the sixth floor of its building. The art staff worked exclusively on Macintosh computers connected through an AppleTalk network. Other employees had stand-alone ibm-type personal computers, and the accounting department used a unix system connected to terminals. First, the design firm approached PacifiCom about upgrading the system. Then it made plans to take over the ground floor and add Windows-based PCs to the operation, broadening the scope of the initial project.
When the 10Base-T network, which was state-of-the-art at the time of installation, became inadequate for the agency`s needs, upgrading the horizontal structured cabling was relatively simple. Along with the installation of the original Category 5 cabling in 1994, PacifiCom had installed the amp Communications Outlet (aco) system. The upgrade to 100Base-T simply required the installation of amp Enhanced Category 5 (5E) cable and Category 5 aco inserts to accommodate Apple Macintoshes, PCs, and serial terminals (see "Connections made simple," page 23).
"It really simplified the move to full-duplex transmission," notes Zoppo. "PacifiCom showed up one day with a box of inserts and said it was our new network. One week later, we were up and running. All we had to do was swap out the inserts. It was that easy."
Powered by three Bay Networks Accelar 1200 Layer 3 routing switches with GbE modules and 16-port 10/100 modules, the Designory`s new GbE backbone links to the firm`s desktop computers through full-duplex 100-Mbit/sec Fast Ethernet connections via Category 5E cable and the aco system. The agency`s art directors and designers have reported immediate and significant improvement in performance. Now when they save a 1-Gbyte file to the server, it takes less than 3 min, rather than the 30 min it used to take.
With PowerMacs connected to the network through the cable and connectors, the Designory`s staff quickly grew accustomed to file-transfer speeds of up to 10 Mbits/sec. "There`s no penalty for working off the server now," says Zoppo. "It is actually faster to work on the server than to work on the local hard drives--the network is that fast. Our whole concept of what we could accomplish through the network changed overnight."
Today, the firm has nearly 200 PCs--Mac and Wintel--linked to its local area network, driven by a Silicon Graphics Origin 2000 server, three Windows NT servers, and two Apple Workgroup servers. Storage capacity was increased with the installation of 144 Gbytes of raid (redundant array of independent disks) from Metastor and a 1.2-terabyte digital-linear-tape library from StorageTek. Now occupying three floors of the building, the Designory is defining how tech-savvy integrated design firms will function in the next millennium. "We`ve gone from a few Macs grouped together on one floor to the cutting-edge operation we are today," says Zoppo. "We are years ahead of where we were."
Chirag V. Shah, system administrator at the Designory, plugs cable assemblies into amp communications outlets, part of the company`s Gigabit Ethernet network.
Gian Zoppo, information-systems director for the Designory, de-monstrates how the aco system facilitates swapping out inserts.
Connections made simple
The amp Communications Outlet (aco) system provides an easy means of reconfiguring work-area outlets and patch panels without reterminating or retesting the horizontal cabling. The heart of the outlet is a card edge connector that terminates all types of twisted-pair cabling: unshielded, shielded, and foil. Adapter inserts for the edge connectors provide the appropriate connector interface to match the equipment and cable type in use. The adapter inserts can also help maximize cable usage through sheath sharing: two voice/modem/fax or data applications up to 155-megabit-per-second Asynchronous Transfer Mode may be combined on one 4-pair cable in a Category 5E network.
The outlet provides several mounting options, including single- and double-gang faceplates, as well as amp`s furniture outlet, surface-mount outlet, and access floor workstation module. The double-gang faceplates also provide multimedia capability for fiber and coaxial cable.
Raymond Rittenhouse is a sales engineer at PacifiCom (Irvine, CA), an amp netconnect design and installation contractor that specializes in designing and installing computer-networking infrastructures.