Glimpse behind the scenes: Belnet renews the FedMAN ring

Davina Luyten

Communications Officer @ Belnet
Thu, 05/25/2023 - 17:54

Federal Public Services (FPSs) are connected by Belnet to one another and to the Internet via FedMAN (Federal Metropolitan Area Network). FedMAN is an essential part of the federal government's IT infrastructure and was fully integrated into the Belnet network about 10 years ago. Recently, in line with the rest of the Belnet network, the FedMAN ring has been running entirely on new equipment from Ciena. Tom De Clercq, one of our network architects, explains the benefits of this renewal and how the network team brought this project to a successful conclusion.

Previously, what was the main technical difference between FedMAN and the rest of the Belnet network? 

"The FedMAN network was based on wavelengths with 10 gigabits per second capacity, while the rest of the network has this capacity in tens. That created restrictions, while at the same time, new requests were coming in. So in the long run, we were going to run into shortages anyway." 

In what context should we view the FedMAN ring renewal study? 

"In the context of increasing customer demands, capacity improvements and general technical evolutions, the time had come to look at how we would revamp the FedMAN ring. The two main proposals were either to maintain the current equipment or to purchase completely new equipment. A colleague on the network team worked with our purchasers to do a thorough analysis of both options at four, eight and ten years. This showed that replacing the current equipment was the most cost-effective option in each case over time." 

Besides cost, what are the main benefits of this updated equipment for Belnet and its community? 

"The process-oriented aspect is definitely an asset as well. One vendor also means one platform. In terms of capacity and stock management, this switch also simplifies and improves the situation. For example, we are noticing a growing demand for cloud-based services among customers. Moreover, the capacity increase was essential for our updated Advanced DDoS Security solution. The datacentres are now connected with capacity increased by a factor of two and a half. So the renewal of the FedMAN ring is strongly linked to the launch of our new anti-DDoS service, but also to the upgrade of the Belnet backbone. These synergies were sometimes an added difficulty, but certainly a strength." 

"Because of this renewal, we are fully ready for the future." Tom De Clercq, network engineer at Belnet 

How was the migration from the old to the new equipment? 

"Delivery times were the biggest hurdle in this affair. We had to wait as much as a year and a half for some equipment parts, due in part to the corona crisis. As a result, the requirements also changed during the course of the project and additional studies sometimes had to be carried out. Currently, we are in the final stretches of the project. The two networks are now running in parallel and we will soon replace the temporary fibres with permanent ones. Finally, once everything is operational and all services have been migrated, the 'old' FedMAN ring can be taken down." 

What collaborations were crucial to the success of this renewal? 

"Despite the external hurdles, the project demonstrates strong internal collaboration between the purchasing and networking team, led by an experienced Project Manager. Finally, the collaboration with both our customers and the integrator was very smooth."

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