@ TechEd: ‘Secret Sauce’: The Tech Behind TechEd

Setting up the technology for Microsoft’s flagship event in Australia is similar to running a small city. It takes five days to physically set up the systems in the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, and we’ve got five technicians constantly monitoring the network to ensure its smooth running. As part of this we track several thousand counters across the entire network infrastructure every 60 seconds, and such is the insight this delivers we’re able to see how much internet traffic is being used, right down to the CPU or memory consumed via a single switch in the field. Taking everything offline is much quicker, just seven hours, but as you can appreciate setting up the tech behind TechEd is a huge project…and something we start planning in April.

This year you may have noticed the onsite network is mostly delivered via a hybrid cloud model. It’s impossible to ignore the growth of cloud computing within Australia over the past 12 months, and this week is a great chance for Microsoft to walk the walk and show our customers what they can achieve with it – be it public, private, or hybrid.

A vital component of TechEd’s hybrid cloud infrastructure this year is the 1Gb per second internet service provided by Telstra, with the E-Line running directly to Charlotte Street Exchange, Brisbane. What’s more, thanks to the routers and autonomous system with full border gateway protocol onsite we’re able to manage how network traffic is directed at the event and respond to any significant changes that occur. We’re also running IPv4 and IPv6 on the Gold Coast, which allows us to effectively manage the increasing number of devices connecting to the network – it was six devices per person in 2012 – and the subsequent data this creates.

During TechEd, our network team’s core focus is ensuring the availability of the network so that you can readily access it and download any content you need – after all, there’s not many worse things at an IT conference than a poor IT experience. As such, managing wireless access to the network for the thousands of devices connecting to it daily is arguably our biggest challenge.

To overcome this we have 10 physical servers – predominately HP Proliant Servers – on site delivering a total of 1124Gb of memory. Each server has a 1.5Gb network connection dedicated to network management, and another 1.5Gb connection for all virtual machines using it. This level of connectivity delivers the flexibility we need to allocate and isolate particular services to their own private networks and ensure they’re readily available for when delegates need them. We’re also making use of 12.7Tb of direct attached storage to further support our capabilities on the Gold Coast.

This might sound like a small amount of hardware to run a show with over 2,500 attendees, yet it’s made possible by the features of Windows Server 2012. By running the platform on each server on the Gold Coast and virtualising all workloads with Hyper-V we’re able to create the virtualised computing environment needed to host the range of services on offer during the event. To manage the hybrid cloud platform we’ve developed with Server 2012 we’re using System Center 2012, which provides us with a 360 insight into network performance empowering us to rapidly scale it to meet user demand and ensure it can be easily accessed throughout the day. Furthermore, the TechEd IT team is using Hyper-V Replicas and Shared Nothing Live Migration to maintain copies of virtual machines between different physical servers and rapidly move workloads ensuring that all data generated and managed during the event is safely backed up.

We hope this brief snapshot into the tech behind TechEd in Australia not only gives you an insight into the hard work going on behind the scenes, but shows what is possible today in the cloud. In just five days we’re able to build a single cloud network capable of serving over 2,500 attendees looking to connect to the network at the same time, and via multiple devices. It’s challenging, but one we’re more than able to address with the technologies available.

To end, here’s some interesting computing performance statistics taken from the week so far:

  • At 11.35am on Wednesday 4th September 1,633 users were connected to TechEd’s wi-fi • 839.21GB of data had been downloaded by 3pm on Wednesday 4th September. We anticipate between 3-4TB of data will have been consumed over the network by the end of the week • Peak internet usage has been well in excess of one gigabit per second • Delegates have experienced download speeds of one gigabit per second through the recharge bar • The event’s private cloud had a total of 101 virtual machines hosted by 3pm on Wednesday 4th September, predominantly running the event infrastructure • 100 wi-fi radios have been running across the whole building

Jeff Alexander, technical evangelist, Microsoft Australia


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