Early exercises in computer telephony, or applying computer intelligence to telephone calls, were often amusingly short-lived. It became apparent early on that companies (and particularly carriers, network operators and service providers) needed fault tolerant, industrial-grade computers. A company would throw together a voice processing system (or a provider would create a voicemail service) by dredging up some cut-rate PCs, overload them with voice and/or fax cards, disk drives and other items. The box, of course, couldn't handle all this paraphernalia and it would burn out on them – the fan would burn out, the power supply would blow, or a non-RAID disk set would fail.
Fortunately, the telcos found a testing standard that ensured quality communications equipment: NEBS (Network Equipment Building System). NEBS was originally formulated in the 1970s at AT&T (News - Alert) Bell Labs so that a vendor could design equipment compatible with any of the seven RBOC (Regional Bell Operating Company) central offices. NEBS documents then came under the purview of Bellcore after the AT&T divestiture, and they are now the provenance of Telcordia, which is also one of the places which conducts NEBS testing. Carriers are not required to buy NEBS-certified equipment, but they all do, because NEBS’ tremendously rigorous testing procedures pretty much guarantee a highly reliable, nearly indestructible device. Indeed, although the NEBS criteria was originally developed for carrier equipment manufacturers, many enterprise network equipment vendors will spend the $100,000+ (not to mention many months) for NEBS certification testing since some of their larger-scale technology may find its way into the carrier environment.
Carrier equipment undergoes about 30 amazingly grueling NEBS tests, such as the infamous “shake and bake” (subjecting the test device to blowtorches and Richter 7 scale earthquake vibration). These tests are defined in documents GR-63, Issue 3, for environmental requirements (“NEBS Requirements: Physical Protection”) and GR-1089, Issue 4, for electrical requirements (“Electromagnetic Compatibility and Electrical Safety - Generic Criteria for Network Telecommunications Equipment”.
The Bellcore special report, SR-3580, details 3 distinct functional levels of NEBS compliance based on GR-63 and GR-1089. NEBS criteria are grouped into three functional levels (1, 2, or 3). Grouping the criteria into levels helps clarify the impact of non-conformance and allows the broad range of NEBS requirements to be sensibly applied to equipment, based on the equipment’s application and impact on network operation.
NEBS Level 1 means that people and equipment hazards and network degradation are minimized. Operability requirements are not enforced for NEBS Level 1 certification. It’s mostly used for getting prototypes into lab trials. RBOCs demand that all equipment deployed by CLECs be NEBS Level 1 certified. Unlike Levels 2 and 3, Level 1 doesn't address operability.
NEBS Level 2 addresses equipment operability in controlled environments such as datacenters. However, it’s also useful for rating equipment performing non-critical operations that might have to work under environmental extremes. Because of its ambiguity, this certification level is almost never used.
NEBS Level 3 is the ultimate certification – the equipment meets all of the GR-63 and GR-1089 requirements. NEBS Level 3 has strict specifications for fire suppression, thermal margin testing, vibration resistance (earthquakes), airflow patterns, acoustic limits, failover and partial operational requirements (such as chassis fan failures), failure severity levels, RF emissions and tolerances, and testing/certification requirements. The equipment will operate under the environmental extremes found in a central office. Level 3 compliance testing demonstrates “5-nines” (99.999%) availability or “uptime”.
Interestingly, Verizon (News - Alert) does not follow the SR-3580 document and instead uses their own NEBS checklist, which is even more stringent than Level 3. (That’s probably why Verizon’s 140 West Street switching office remained operational during 9/11, despite being situated right next to the World Trade Center towers.)
In Europe, ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute), a sort of counterpart to ANSI (American National Standards Institute), based in Sophia-Antipolis, near Nice, France, also promotes central office equipment standards that resemble NEBS.
One manufacturer that has mastered the art of NEBS Level 3 certification is NEI (www.nei.com). NEI’s N-1500 R2 and N-2500 R3 carrier-grade rack mount servers offer customers a NEBS Level 3 certified solution in a small 20-inch deep footprint. These 1U and 2U carrier-grade NEBS servers deliver the ultimate in reliability and performance while ensuring an estimated lifecycle of nearly five years. With the ability to install up to three high-end telephony cards, NEI’s NEBS servers allow VARS, ISVs, NEMs, and OEMs to deliver lower cost communications solutions and services by reducing time-to-market and maximizing return on investment.
In terms of High Availability (HA), both units offer advanced server management and telco alarming to ensure maximum uptime, redundant hot swap power and cooling to reduce Man-Time-To-Repair (MTTR) and increase Mean-Time-Between-Failures (MTBF).
The N-1500 R2 supports low voltage thermal design processors for reduced power consumption while the N-2500 R2 supports dual quad-core Xeon processors for high levels of computing for threaded applications.
The N-1500 R2 houses one full-length, full-height super slot; PCI-X or PCIe x 8 for one full-length, full-height telephony card. In terms of storage, the drive bays will hold up to three hot swap 2.5-inch SAS (News - Alert) drives, and there’s an external x 4 SAS connection, which is RAID-capable when purchasing the hardware RAID option. The N-1500 R2 with AC power completed NEBS Level 3 testing and was certified in 2008 — a very rare find in the market.
The N-1500 R2 supports the quad-core Intel (News - Alert) Xeon processor L5410 or dual-core Intel Xeon processors (LV 5148 or LV 5128). The board can hold 24 GB with 4 GB memory per DIMM (six DIMM slots).
As for the hefty N-2500 R3, it houses three full-length, full-height PCI-X slots for three telephony cards or two PCIe (x 4) and one PCI-X slot. Two low-profile PCI-X slots support add-in boards for RAID or Fibre channel controllers.
In terms of storage, the unit can hold six hot swap 2.5-inch SAS drives, and hardware RAID 5 is supported.
Computing power comes from dual quad-core Intel 5400 series processors. The board holds 32 GB of FB-DIMM memory.
Data storage is also a perennial concern for both large data centers and small businesses. Fortunately, NEI now offers the new SN-2500 R2 SAN Storage Subsystem, providing customers with a device having great flexibility, capacity and scalability. The SN-2500 R2 is a carrier-grade, super-reliable, NEBS Level 3 certified rack SAN (Storage Area Network) storage subsystem targeted at telecom OEMs and ISVs.
Customers purchasing the SN-2500 R2 may choose between fiber channel, SAS or iSCSI interfaces. The SN-2500 R2 also offers a choice between AC or DC power. Customers may also select either SAS, SATA hard drives or a combination of the two, thus making this platform sufficiently customizable to meet both a customer’s storage needs as well as customer data lifecycle requirements, all in the same form factor.
The SN-2500 R2 provides external SAN storage optimized to deliver up to an impressive 48 TB capacity with support for various RAID levels. The 2U-high rack mount houses 12 drive bays per system and you can scale up to four chassis or 48 drives to satisfy even the largest expansion needs. The platform’s modular architecture enables customers to dynamically scale capacity and performance based on market positioning or customer needs.
The SN-2500 R2 provides a first-rate integration path for supplemental data storage and disaster recovery for mission-critical security, storage, networking and communications applications such as file sharing, distributed databases and web video. The system is fully validated with ATCA blades and NEBS servers and is NEBS Level 3 and ETSI certified, so you can add it to your existing NEI ATCA and NEBS Level 3 equipment configurations.
In all, NEI offers an interesting blend of expertise in storage, security, carrier-grade communications and enterprise communications, along with a broad range of hardware platforms and components to meet whatever the needs of a particular applications happen to be.
For more, be sure to check out the NEBS channel on TMCnet.
Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC (News - Alert)�s IP Communications Group. To read more of Richard’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi