William D. Souder

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Case Study

Case Study: Cloud Success Precipitates an Upgrade

GNAX is now providing its customers higher-bandwidth access to a whole range of new services

Before it started asking vendors its questions about how to upgrade to support rapid growth in customer cloud-bandwidth demands, Global Net Access (GNAX) spent a lot of time and effort on finding its own answers.

The investment in homework paid off. Today, GNAX has a very scalable and flexible connectivity solution between its 70,000-square-foot Atlanta data center and a nearby Telx interconnection facility. The upgrade allows the provider of data center services, colocation, cloud computing and managed hosting to offer its varied customers bandwidth access reaching 160 gigabytes and low-latency links to potentially hundreds of U.S. and international carriers, financial exchanges and media application providers.

What business drivers brought GNAX to its decision to upgrade, and how did it go about achieving the right mix of upfront and ongoing cost efficiencies and long-term scalability that it required?

On the Cusp of the Cloud Wave
Founded in 1999 and privately held, GNAX (www.gnax.net) sells infrastructure as a service, as well as value-added, cloud-based solutions (server backup, storage, archiving, etc.) that are tailored for specific industries. For example, the company has a division focused on delivering health care technology infrastructure services, and, earlier in 2011, GNAX Health announced its certification as the first and only health care IT company to meet VMware's criteria as a "vCloud Powered" services provider.

For customers across diverse markets such as health care, government and technology, GNAX strives to fully integrate the protocol stack across its fully owned facilities and provide mission-critical, enterprise-grade solutions at affordable, small-business prices. By shouldering the network and IT responsibilities, GNAX seeks to free its customers to focus on the end-user applications, improve their performance at reduced expense and increase organizational agility.

It's an increasingly popular value proposition among customers, who are in dire need of more and more bandwidth, unencumbered connectivity and less complexity. GNAX, consequently, has been in fast-growth mode (retaining net income profitability since 2003), and it has steadily innovated its operations to capitalize on the cloud trend:

  • In 2001, GNAX acquired an Internet service provider/hosting company, NetDepot, and launched its infrastructure-as-a-service offering.
  • In 2006, the company opened its Atlanta data center, a highly secure and stable SSAE 16 Type II facility that today encompasses 70,000 square feet and leverages Tier IV electrical power. Three years later, it opened a Dallas data center, too.
  • In 2010, GNAX launched its Virtual Private Data Center (VPDC) service and a comprehensive cloud ecosystem based on an enterprise-class, virtual machine (VM) platform.

The next big advance was completed just this year: deployment of flexible and scalable wavelength division multiplexing (WDM).

Doing Its Homework
It wasn't nearly as simple as just deploying fatter pipes to meet customers' expanding bandwidth demands.

To maintain the competitive pricing of its services, GNAX had to be very cognizant of the downstream costs that today's technology's choice might portend tomorrow. That meant factors such as power efficiency, space requirements and maintenance needs would have to be assessed; the solution would have to grow cost-effectively with fast-growing GNAX over time. Plus, because GNAX is under competitive pressure to offer and live up to exacting service-level agreements (SLAs), reliability was a critical consideration. Consequently, GNAX sought a pragmatic solution with fewer possibilities for failure.

Choosing the right solution started with a lot of studying. Multiple engineers within GNAX did their own independent research on technologies and then consolidated notes into a report to the company's chief operating officer. Each agreed WDM was the right technology for GNAX, and they were given no restrictions as to which vendor's products to deploy.

GNAX focused its vendor search around three top priorities: a low upfront cost, small footprint, as "green" an implementation as possible and passive technology to support the best uptimes. And then it started reaching out to potential partners.

GNAX heard a bunch of vendor pitches and asked lots of questions: What if we have a failure here? ... What if we need to deliver more bandwidth there? ... How much is this going to cost? ... How much is this really going to cost - initially and over the years? GNAX listened not only for the right answers, but also for honest answers the first time.

Evaluating the Options
ADVA Optical Networking (www.advaoptical.com) offered GNAX unmatched flexibility: active or passive implementations, multiple flavors of WDM, options in reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer (ROADM), amplifier functionality and more. After analyzing GNAX's particular situation and needs in terms of parameters such as shelf size, power draw, projected growth rate over next several years, ADVA Optical Networking recommended a low-cost, passive coarse WDM (CWDM) system that would multiplex, transport and protect high-speed data, storage, voice and video applications. It's a structured solution designed to accommodate GNAX's continued growth.

GNAX liked the fact that the ADVA FSP 3000 is not so intricate that it can't be cost-efficiently maintained. Its carrier-grade protection and redundancy capabilities give GNAX the confidence that its SLAs will be met, and the passive, powerless configuration eliminates potential sources of outages. Also, its small-footprint, modular architecture leverages rack-mountable shelves, hot-swappable modules, universal cards, transparent interfaces and qualifications with all leading storage area network (SAN) vendors allow GNAX to easily provision services of any standard protocol today and to dynamically meet its customers' emerging requirements later. There would be no forklift upgrades required downstream.

Even after deciding on which solution it would deploy, GNAX worked through perhaps 20 iterations of models and functionality before settling on the ideal configuration for its needs.

No Hiccups, No Surprises
Finally, before purchasing, GNAX personnel visited ADVA Optical Networking's lab facilities in nearby Norcross, GA, to experiment and grow comfortable with the solution. This spared GNAX the expense and delay of procuring its own expensive test gear. And the extra legwork early on meant minimal ramp-up time for GNAX staff once the solution was installed and no surprises or hiccups in the months since. From inception through lab testing through actual deployment, the ADVA Optical Networking team worked closely with GNAX's to ensure the equipment application and implementation were successful.

With the upgrade, GNAX is now providing its customers higher-bandwidth access to a whole range of new services, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video traffic at higher speeds. Moreover, with a widening array of enterprise customers looking to the cloud for sophisticated application support, GNAX is positioned to flexibly grow its infrastructure services in step with heightened customer demand.

More Stories By William D. Souder

William D. Souder is Vice President, Engineering and Online Operations, at GNAX. His duties include oversight of the deployment and delivery of the company's technology services. He also manages the service architecture, R&D and technical operations, encompassing the GNAX engineering team. He has over 15 years of experience architecting and managing the implementation of data technology solutions for a wide variety of enterprises.

William holds a BS in Computer Information Systems from DeVry. He is also a Fellow, Technology Innovation and Global Leadership from the MIT Sloan School of Management. He holds advanced certifications from VMware, HP, Microsoft and EMC. Additionally, he is the co-chair of the Atlanta VMware User Group and a VMware vExpert.

More Stories By John Scherzinger

John Scherzinger is Senior Vice President of North American Sales at ADVA Optical Networking. He is responsible for all direct and channel sales in the region. He has over 20 years of experience selling complex Optical, Ethernet and IP network solutions to both Carriers and Enterprises.

Prior to joining ADVA in 2007, John held sales management positions with Redback Networks and Nortel Networks. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of San Diego and an MBA from Santa Clara University.

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