Belnet completes redesign of its network

As 2020 draws to a close, the final steps will be taken in the redesign of the Belnet network. With this ambitious project, we have succeeded in significantly improving the stability, redundancy and performance of our network. The focus of the final stage has been on increasing and redistributing external capacity. And as for the future, it is definitely set to bring both investments and improvements in the long term.

The reason for the redesign project, which began in 2017, was issues with the redundancy of our network and the distribution of traffic between the available interfaces. We needed a new network structure, which would provide more effective protection from incidents and offer a higher level of redundancy.

To begin with, our network architects worked out various scenarios that were weighed up against each other. This comprehensive study stage ultimately resulted in one optimum scenario, which was then worked out in detail. The preparation of implementation, including budget approvals and orders, was also completed in this stage of the project.

The next major step was the phased implementation of the redesign itself. The Belnet network was divided into zones in order to minimise the impact on our customers. The FedMAN ring was also reviewed.

High-performance connections with internet nodes and transit providers

This year saw the implementation of the third and final phase of the project, the focus of which was more efficient distribution of external connectivity and expansion of external capacity. One example is the decentralisation of external capacity at the point of presence (PoP) in Evere, which means that incidents in this PoP will have a much smaller impact on the rest of the Belnet network from now on.

The expansion of external capacity was a second major improvement. The capacity to our surrounding internet exchanges was greatly increased. From now on, the Belnet network has a 60 Gbit/s connection to AMS-IX in the Netherlands and a 30 Gbit/s connection to LINX in London. Our network specialists also upgraded the connection to our own BNIX internet node (from 20 to 60 Gbit/s).

Transit capacity (to GTT, Telia and Cogent) was also significantly expanded. At present, one quarter of our traffic goes to transit networks, and the upgrade allows us to route all of our current traffic through IP transit. This provides an additional margin for our available bandwidth in the event of DDoS attacks.

Research centres across the world

The redundant connection to the pan-European GÉANT network was upgraded to 100Gbit/s back in the spring of 2020. The capacity increase was carried out faster than planned, which enabled us to respond more effectively to the needs of one of our affiliated research centres.

The presence of GÉANT at various internet nodes such as AMS-IX and LINX also offers benefits for Belnet. In fact, by using the GÉANT peering service, Belnet receives all routes from GÉANT's peering partners that are present on these platforms. This enables Belnet to significantly expand its escape routes.

Belnet also recently joined the NetherLight platform. NetherLight is an open network exchange that makes it possible to set up fast international connections with (research) networks across the world. CERN, Internet2, and NORDUnet are just some of the networks already present on the platform, and this offers interesting opportunities for the research institutions of the Belnet community.

Better resilience

The redesign of our network enables us to ensure the continuity of our services in the long term with the optimum service our community can expect from us. The Belnet network has become more resilient as a result of higher redundancy and more escape routes.

If an incident does occur, the redesign will ensure that the other links can take over the traffic, no matter which external link may fail. Traffic can be controlled more effectively and troubleshooting has been greatly simplified as a result.

Better connections with GÉANT and other external parties offer our clients numerous new opportunities and guarantee them the almost unlimited exchange of data as part of their research and teaching activities.

Minimal impact on clients

The entire project was managed from start to finish by one of our network specialists, and formed a huge challenge for project manager Grégory Degueldre: "The biggest challenge lay in the fact that we had to carry out a complete overhaul of the network without major interruptions. So, migrating in one go, a complete 'big bang', was impossible."

Working on the basis of this mindset, our network team developed a set-up that involved a very gradual migration from A to B. "Thanks to the meticulous preparations and outstanding cooperation with the entire network team and other units within Belnet, we were able to minimise the impact on the Belnet community throughout the turnaround time."

Of course, the completion of this project does not mean the work stops: the maintenance and improvement of the Belnet network is an ongoing objective. "The coming years will see further large investments, including upgrades of the hardware. Our team will also begin the preliminary study of the evolution of our network in 2021," concludes Grégory Degueldre.

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