Delivering Quality and Reliability Customer Challenge
Senior Staff Network Analyst Joe Daniels works alongside the IT team at Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline to maintain an extensive communications network that includes over 100 routers and switches—some located in very remote and isolated locations. It is the IT group’s responsibility to ensure that the network components along every section of Southern Star’s sprawling pipeline infrastructure are tracked and under control at all times.
Microwave radio and satellite links provide the company with effective network redundancy. In the most remote locations where commercial high-speed data connectivity is unavailable, the company also relies on lower bandwidth terrestrial radio spurs to further extend network connectivity. For these isolated areas where the company often limits network traffic to include only the most critical data and control information, Daniels considers QoS to be especially important.
The network carries supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) information critical for continuous monitoring of conditions along the pipeline. The Southern Star IT department is on call around the clock to ensure there will be an immediate response to any potential problems or emergencies that arise.
Most of the Southern Star network is well provisioned with plenty of capacity. Daniels is a strong proponent of solidly redundant infrastructures, and he credits the company’s practice of provisioning robust backup links with reducing downtime and keeping urgent service calls to a minimum.
Daniels felt implementing quality of service (QoS) should be the logical next step to ensure protection and effective management of this bandwidth for applications such as network-wide VoIP and video that he envisions for the future.
Because Southern Star did not have extensive experience with QoS, Daniels took it upon himself to research and champion this technology for the company. “For the first two or three months I read everything I could get my hands on,” he said. “The more I read, the more I realized what a daunting task I had taken on. I knew it would be a huge undertaking.”
Daniels built a three router test network to experiment with the concepts he had been reading about. “By chance, about three-quarters of the way into my research, I saw a blog on QoS by Cisco’s Jimmy Ray Purser. He said some very positive things about LiveAction software, so I checked out [their] website and downloaded the free trial. I was just amazed that you could actually see the flows and classes and knew right then that I would need this as a tool to implement our QoS,” Daniels said.
Before seeing LiveAction’s network experience platform (now known as LiveNX*), Daniels worked on the assumption that he would be spending a lot of time with the command line interface. “If I had to do it with just command lines and show statements, I would still be wondering if I did it right,” he said. “With LiveAction I don’t have to rely on the CLI. I have never seen any other product that can do this. It’s a great tool and looking back, had we not come across LiveAction, the task on our plate would have been much bigger and much more stressful.”