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Architecting a Modern Network

Most everyone who's worked in a large building has experienced this: It's 5 p.m., businesses are closing for the day and people are scurrying to the elevators to take them to the lobby-sometimes they get lucky and find a car with enough room for them or, just as likely, they have to wait for another, emptier one. Once they're in the lobby, there's another mad dash for the doors, with workers eager to get home pushing out into the street, sometimes cramming themselves into revolving doors two at a time.

Quite a sight to be sure, but by simply standing by and observing, architects can easily determine where the bottlenecks are in situations such as these-the elevators, the lobby and the doors (revolving or not)-and, with that knowledge in hand, design other buildings to ease this congestion. They can widen hallways, add elevators (or make the stairs more accessible), enlarge the lobby and create additional street egresses.

Now if it were only that easy for the IT personnel in charge of monitoring TCP/IP activity on their systems. While the monitoring tools built into the zSeries* operating systems may suit most mainframe shops, enterprises that continue to grow and must forecast for additional networking, bandwidth and computing-resource needs may require expanded capabilities. Unlike building architects, these IT professionals can't simply stand by and watch this type of activity. They must have active monitoring tools that can not only examine current activity but also archive it for future planning use.

This is what the Principal Financial Group was seeking as it began moving much of its network to TCP/IP. While the company had monitoring tools available for its previous SNA-based network, it had trouble finding functional equivalents for TCP/IP. Essential for both current TCP/IP-stack monitoring and future growth predictions, The Principal found its solution in the Minneapolis, Minn.-based Software Diversified Services' (SDSs) Vital Signs.

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Headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, The Principal
is one of the world's largest providers of financial products, offering business, individual and institutional customers a variety of retirement, investment, insurance and mortgage services. In fact, it has some 13 million customers around the globe, with offices in Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

Supporting this worldwide footprint is an environment consisting of 2064-IC8s systems running in a zSeries Parallel Sysplex* cluster-a technology that allows direct, concurrent read/write access to shared data across all of the processing nodes in a cluster. In addition, two OSA Express Gigabit Ethernet adapters per 2064 connect the machines to the company's Ethernet network, which is both local and wide area.

Until about four years ago, SNA served as the company's primary communications protocol. It was used within the Parallel Sysplex as well as between client machines and the Parallel Sysplex. However, as TCP/IP began to unseat SNA as the de facto networking protocol, and as users and vendors began writing applications with TCP/IP sockets, The Principal started looking into ways to work TCP/IP into its networking architecture.

"We're still SNA within the Sysplex," notes Tom Zimmerman, assistant director of IS with The Principal, "but IP is bringing traffic into the mainframes. And that's because IP has won the battle of networking protocols, so not only are the workstations using IP as their primary method of connecting to the mainframes, but so are our other customers and vendors."



"Over the 20-plus years we had been using SNA, we had developed means by which we could monitor the SNA network. And we had a fairly tight grip on it. But as we started converting to IP, we suddenly discovered that we didn't have the same type of capability to monitor an IP network." -Tom Zimmerman, Is assistant director, the Principal Financial Group

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at

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