David Strom

Campus Crusade gets VG'ed

By David Strom

All of us at one time or another have an obsession with speed. With me, it naturally comes

into play with network throughput: I know, an odd hobby but it comes with the territory. And

many of you share my interest as well and would like your networks to perform faster. Over

the years we have come up with a variety of ways to increase network throughput but

certainly the simplest way is to prevent any users from having network access. That isn't very

practical or very politically acceptable these days. 

So, second best is to examine carefully the bottlenecks and fix them. That requires skill, some

good tools such as packet analyzers, and a lot of time -- a hard combination in these days of

downsizing support staffs that are already stretched pretty thin.

Most of us though take a third route, beefing up places where we feel the bottlenecks already

exist. While more satisfying than crawling around one's wiring closets with a Sniffer, it can

be costly, time-consuming and career-limiting -- especially if your gut feelings on your

network bottlenecks turn out to be wrong. 

One arena that has received a great deal of attention has been upgrading your network cabling

to handle faster, 100 megabit technologies. And this year many products have become widely

available from a variety of vendors, always a sign that a market is maturing. 

There has been a great deal written on 100 megabit networking, and I won't give you a

primer here: suffice it to say that there are two competing technologies: 100 Base-T, also

called Fast Ethernet, and 100 VG AnyLAN, which handles both Ethernet and Token Ring

topologies (although my fellow columnist Metcalfe would take issue with using Ethernet with

100VG in the same sentence, most everyone else lumps them together).

In these next three columns, I look at 100VG technology. A future series will examine my

efforts at using Fast Ethernet. 

My site for the 100VG network was perhaps the most unusual organization on my travels to

date: the Campus Crusade for Christ world headquarters in Orlando, Florida. Campus Crusade

is an international missionary organization that has about 600 employees in Orlando and

thousands more scattered around the globe. Their data processing needs are immense to

support a wide variety of publishing, conferences, fund raising, and other charitable works. 

Their offices are located in a sprawling one-floor office building that has wiring closets

located in different quadrants of the building, with each closet connected back to the central

data center in the middle of the building via fiber and several twisted pairs of copper. This is

a good thing, because it allows all sorts of flexibility when it comes time to configure the

network layout.

And flexible is one word that applies to the Campus Crusade network. They are the ultimate

equal opportunity topology employer and have tried just about every kind of wire known to

grace a network. Before I arrived with my 100VG equipment, they were using16-megabit

token ring along with Arcnet and 10Base-T Ethernet and even some Thomas Conrad TCNS

100 megabit wiring thrown in for good measure.

There were all very good reasons for choosing one topology or another for the organization.

"Well, we started with Arcnet when our offices were located in southern California," said Tim

Taylor, manager of network consulting for the organization. When the organization first got

into LANs, they were still a mainframe shop with lots of coax in the walls: Arcnet made the

most sense since it uses the same RG62 cabling that a 3270 tube has. "When we moved to

Orlando four years ago we began to install token ring networks," he told me on my visit there

this past June. 

Campus Crusade runs its operations on three different types of servers: NetWare 3.11 and

3.12, which they will later this year upgrade to 4.1; Santa Cruz Operation's Unix Open

Server; and an IBM 4381 mainframe which they are in the process of getting rid of next year.

All of their servers, except a NetWare for SAA mainframe gateway, have two network

adapters in them: a token ring card, which connects to a backbone ring; and several TCNS

cards, which connect to various wiring closet servers running Novell's Multi-Protocol Router

software. They use these wiring closet servers to bridge between all the various topologies

that are installed in that quadrant of the building, making it easier to transition from one

topology to another.

They have two servers each running SCO and NetWare: one of the SCO boxes is a Tricord

ES/5000 with 192 megabytes of RAM and 8 gigabytes of disk. This beast runs their Oracle

database server and is being loaded up with more and more data that was originally kept on

the IBM mainframe. 

Finally, most of their desktop machines are Intel machines running either DOS or Windows,

and they do have a few Macintoshes as well. Next week we'll talk about the conversion to the

100VG network.


If you are planning about upgrading your NetWare network to 100 megabit techologies, my

advice is have an CNE on hand who really understands multi-protocol networks and knows

his or her way around an AUTOEXEC.NCF file. Without this expertise on-site, you are in for

a rough ride.

I was working with such a fellow at the world headquarters of Campus Crusade for Christ in

Orlando, Florida. As I mentioned last week, Campus Crusade has one of every kind of wire

scheme in their walls: Ethernet, Arcnet, and Token Ring. The wunderkind was Kent Keller,

who had designed their network to handle a graceful transition from older, slower

technologies to the brave new world of 100VG AnyLAN.

Keller, along with the rest of the IT staff, realized that their 16 megabit token ring backbone

was getting bogged down. Users were running more applications on a Tricord SCO machine,

using PeopleSoft's applications and other Oracle databases. They began an investigation late

last year into faster networking technologies.

"We settled on HP's 100VG AnyLAN because we don't have category 5 wiring in our walls

and because some of our wiring closets are located more than 100 meters apart," said Jerry

Hertzler, the network services manager at Campus Crusade. Both of those reasons prevented

them from choosing 100Base-T or fast Ethernet technology. So our job was to obtain the

necessary parts to put both NetWare and SCO servers on 100VG networks, along with several

workstations that required faster throughput for their database queries.

At the time we started this project in early January, only Hewlett Packard was shipping

100VG equipment. (Now Thomas Conrad has joined in, along with a few other vendors). We

needed several hubs, along with an assortment of ISA, EISA, and PCI network cards to

upgrade their network. Campus Crusade is buying PCI-based workstations now, although they

had quite a few older ISA machines. And all of their servers used EISA adapters.

Keller's design was to install several 100VG NICs in each server in place of the Thomas

Conrad adapters to minimize hops from the desktop to each server. Each NIC connects a

server to a particular wiring closet, where a NetWare Multiprotocol router is used to connect

all the various topologies installed on the desktops in that part of their sprawling building.

Keller's idea was to keep the existing wire plant useful as long as possible, while at the same

time allowing the more demanding users to receive 100 megabit throughput from end to end.

That was the theory, anyway.

Our installation wasn't without its share of problems, of course, and that's where having

Keller, along with others with complementary experience, helped a great deal. Our first

problem was getting the network adapters to work properly. We began by trying to install the

PCI cards in a test workstation, to make sure that everything worked. They didn't. Turns out

there is a conflict between EMM386 and the PCI drivers. Using a newer version of EMM386

from Microsoft fixed this problem.

Next issue were the EISA adapters. HP has done a sloppy job with these: you have to

configure them three times: once as part of the base EISA configuration utility when you first

put the cards in the machine. Next, you boot the machine in DOS and run HP's configuration

utility, making sure that the interrupts and memory parameters that you specified in the EISA

configuration are the same in the HP-configuration. This is an unneeded step if the HP NICs

were true EISA cards: they should be able to set themselves accordingly and without the need

for a separate DOS setup routine. Finally, you have to set the very same parameters in the

network operating system (NetWare does this in the INSTALL utility, SCO does this in their

netconfig utility.) 

Of course, given this complexity, you would think mistakes are inevitable, and we managed

to mess up on one of the cards. It took a few hours to track down, but because the mistake

was found during the work day, he had to wait till off-hours to bring down the server and

reconfigure the machine. 

Another problem was the Macintosh support. After lots of consultation with Novell and HP

support engineers, we discovered a bug in the drivers dealing with AppleTalk support on

NetWare 3.11. Once we got new drivers from HP, we were off to the races.

We had another slight problem, though: some of the workstations were using a moldy version

of Novell's shell, NET3.COM. This wouldn't work with the 100VG configuration, and we had

to upgrade these machines to the more modern NETX.EXE shells.

All this was well and good, and for the most part the Campus Crusade staff got their

NetWare servers up and running on 100VG with a minimum of fuss and bother. Next week,

I'll talk about the SCO installation and our results.


The most interesting thing about testing 100VG AnyLAN networks at the world headquarters

of Campus Crusade for Christ is that we ended up testing the wrong things but the users got a

faster network anyway. It is nice to have a happy ending to our saga, but first we had to get

through some power problems. "Orlando [where the organization's headquarters is located] is

the lightning capital of the world," said Tim Taylor, the manager of network consulting for

the organization. "We get power outages all the time here, and that's why we have such a

huge UPS in our data center." However, the UPS didn't help them when it came time to

upgrade their Tricord SCO server to 100VG.

Campus Crusade runs on two SCO boxes: the other one is a 486 clone. They tackled this one

first and found all sorts of problems with the box's EISA configuration utility. One trick they

discovered was to load SMARTDRV to cache the floppy disk: that cut down the installation

from over a hour to mere minutes.  

On to the Tricord. We began at 3 pm one afternoon. When we tried to power the machine

back up (after turning it off and installing four 100VG cards in it), it wouldn't start up.

Tracking down the problem took the better part of an hour, and luckily we had lots of help.

Tricord has fairly strict maintenance agreements, and in order to service the machine you

have to have someone that has graduated from their program. None of the Campus Crusade

staff had these credentials, but their local Tricord rep, Michael Brown, did. 

Tricord has some interesting redundant components, and this particular model has four

duplicate power supplies. All four were working just fine. One place that the machine doesn't

have any redundancy is the place where the power cord enters the machine: after all, you only

have one place for it to come in. Unlike other PCs with the standard three-prong adapters, the

Tricord uses 220 volt power and a different cord. It took some time to figure out that the cord

was working fine.

Brown ended up taking apart the power control modules in the machine, and determined that

one of the two modules was broken. He decided to replace both of them, rather than spend

any more time tracking down the problem. Fortunately for us Tricord maintains a parts depot

nearby in Orlando, so it was just a matter of a few hours' wait until these parts showed up.

By 8 pm we were jamming.

Once the machine was powered on, we configured the adapters and got everything connected.

We did some tests to make sure the server could be seen at various places on the network,

and that was working fine.

Now to test for throughput: was the 100VG network any faster than 16 megabit token ring?

We did a simple ftp file transfer from a NetWare server to the SCO box, and found five

megabytes of data took about as long with a 100VG connection as it did with a token ring

connection. Either our tests were testing the wrong thing or else something was wrong with

our network. Since everything else appeared to be working, we decided to call it a night and

head home.

The next morning we arrived to users with smiling faces.  Database queries took about a third

less time with 100VG connections between the client and server than they did under token

ring. It looked like we were testing the wrong thing, and the users' own experience showed us

that we needed to redesign our tests. When later that week we did our own tests of database

queries (with everyone off the network), we found a query that took 22 seconds on an

end-to-end token ring connection took only 15 seconds on an end-to-end 100VG connection:

clearly, the 100VG is faster.

And the query interestingly enough, took the same time whether an ISA or PCI 100VG

adapter was used: showing that the PCI driver isn't yet up to snuff, we were testing the server

side more than the client side, or else HP can write very good ISA drivers. 

With all this work, do I feel that 100VG is ready for prime time? I would say yes, with some

caveats. First off, you should make sure that you have the latest drivers from HP. I also want

to put a plea here for HP, SCO and Tricord to do a better job working together to make better

drivers. Having my attention focussed on this particular combination of products helped to

move things along, but the three companies need to coordinate their engineering.

Second, be sure you have documented all the bits and pieces of your network, since once you

start upgrading the wire plant you'll be surprised at how many places there are to touch.

Campus Crusade's staff forgot about a few print servers and diskless workstations that were

still running older versions of DOS and NetWare shells -- these didn't work under the new

100VG setup. Third, I still recommend that you purchase a packet analyzer and know your

network before you begin: you may find all sorts of bottlenecks that can be resolved without

upgrading your topology. And finally, be careful to make sure that you are testing the right

things: as we found out, file transfers don't really do the job.

Products Mentioned:

AdvanceStack 100VG Hub-15 J2410A 15-port hub $3199

10/100VG Selectable PC LAN Adapters: 

J2573A (ISA), $229

J2577A (EISA), $279

J2585A (PCI) $249

Hewlett Packard Co.

Santa Clara, CA 95051

800 333 1333

800 333 1917 fax

http://www.hp.com (web), info@hp.com (email)

Click here to return to the previous page

David Strom David Strom Port Washington, NY 11050 USA US TEL: 1 (516) 944-3407