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Engin Builds Broadband Aggregation Platform with F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager

Since 2004, Engin has offered VoIP technology directly to residential, small business, and wholesale customers in Australia. It was the first broadband phone service to be widely available to Australian consumers and businesses, and the first on the shelves of major retailers. Delivering services to almost half of the broadband phone market in Australia, Engin allows broadband users to make and receive calls over the Internet using their existing telephones or an Engin Internet phone. This easy-to-use service drastically reduces phone bills, while offering a range of free value-added features, including enabling customers to actively control their own calls. In an effort to provide better services, Engin has successfully built a broadband aggregation platform on F5 that is affordable, easy to manage, and efficient.

Business Challenges

Engin was using solutions from third-party suppliers in its build up phase. As business grew and customer demands increased, the existing platform proved to be difficult to manage in terms of customer and carrier fault resolution and troubleshooting.  As Engin sits between customers and its wholesale carriage provider, the natural progression was to build its own broadband aggregation platform that would allow it to provide end-to-end solutions comprising voice and data to customers.

The company hopes to achieve better average revenue per user through bundling services and customer tie in. “Bundling VoIP with broadband will enable us to provide voice to all users without relying on the Internet. We have had many instances where Internet browsing and services will be down but voice services are still working perfectly,” said Jarrod Lucia, Senior Network Engineer, Engin.

The traditional model requires a multi- layered approach—edge, firewall, core, and distribution. However, the inherent complexities of this model did not lend themselves to rapid deployment or the dynamic service approach required by Engin.  It also proved challenging in terms of cost because it involved a significant upfront investment in infrastructure.

“Our criteria were high availability, customizable configuration, service agility, and an all-in-one solution. ... F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager met all our requirements.” Jarrod Lucia, Senior Network Engineer, Engin

Solution

Having successfully used the F5 platform as a session initiation protocol load balancer in a voice network since 2006, Engin chose BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) to build its broadband aggregation platform.

“Our criteria were high availability, customizable configuration, service agility, and an all-in-one solution. F5 was our number one choice and F5 BIG-IP LTM met all our requirements. We have always found the F5 team to be approachable, professional, and technically amazing at what they do,” said Lucia.

Deployed as a high availability pair (one  active and one standby) at Engin’s data  center, the F5 solution supports up to  100,000 user services, using a combination of different layer 2 technologies terminating  on the platform.

The broadband aggregation platform terminates and provides DSL, Ethernet first mile, and national broadband network services for customers. It supports applications such as broadband service selection, P2P service limiting, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) and denial-of- service (DoS) protection, firewall, and traffic shaping.

For broadband service selection, the F5 solution runs a virtual IP (VIP)—one for TCP and the other for UDP. These VIPs use F5 iRules, an event-driven scripting language, to inspect and route the traffic based on the type of service subscription, which may include voice, Internet, and add-on services.  Another set of iRules inspects TCP traffic and, if P2P is detected, allocates it to a rate- shaped pipe.

Protection against DDoS and DoS comes from several sets of iRules that block specific ports from getting to users, count connections to known attack ports, and allow only a restricted amount of connections. The F5 solution also runs a set of virtual LAN filters, as well as iRules connected to the DDoS and DoS protection, to provide firewall services to customers and internal systems.

By connecting the F5 solution to the billing and rating system, which uses data collected in real time from RADIUS servers, Engin is able to put customers into different rate- shaping pipes based on usage or services.

“We are very pleased that F5 can provide, in a single box service selection, firewalling and the best thing, iRules.” Jarrod Lucia, Senior Network Engineer, Engin

Benefits

With the F5 solution deployed, Engin has a broadband aggregation platform that is ready to deliver better services.

“We now connect directly with our carriers, so troubleshooting and support is much better. We have experienced much quicker resolution and our users have a much better experience with speed and quality,” said Lucia.

Hardware savings

Opting for F5 has enabled Engin to save more than US$100,000 in hardware costs. “The alternative deployment using the traditional model would require an investment in multiple point solutions amounting to US$250,000 for a firewall, a router, a switch, a load balancer, and a bandwidth manager. F5 delivers an all-in-one solution so there is no need for multiple devices such as switches and routers. This has saved at least US$100,000 in hardware costs alone,” said Lucia.

“Keeping initial and ongoing costs to a minimum allows us to achieve much better margin. This is particularly important in the telecommunication service provider space where changing user data profile is driving increased data consumption without additional user revenue,” he added.

With the new implementation, Engin can also add revenue lines through its telecommunication services without having to increase hardware resources. Better yet, these lines can be quickly added to the platform.

Reduced complexity

Because the new solution is easy to use and manage, the cost for staff training is almost negligible.

“The reduction in complexity makes the platform easier for our technical staff to support. Only F5 and Juniper knowledge are required. We do not need to hire additional staff and there is no cost for design or implementation as all the skills are available in-house,” said Lucia.

Resource efficiency

The versatile F5 solution is deployed as a router, switch, load balancer, bandwidth manager, and firewall.

“We are very pleased that F5 can provide in a single box service selection, firewalling, and the best thing, iRules. There isn’t anything that I haven’t been able to do with iRules,” said Lucia.

Another useful feature is F5 iControl, an interface that automatically controls shaping, service selection policy, and user manipulation. Engin takes advantage of the iControl API to put users into and out of data groups, shaping plans and iRules as required in real time.

“Together, the platform and iControl have allowed us to create a seamless billing and customer management process from our front end self-help website right through to the controlling infrastructure. When a user changes their plan or purchases additional usage or service, this is instantly turned on or off on the network, making for a richer user experience,” said Lucia.

Next steps

With the broadband aggregation platform built, Engin is in the process of upgrading the current F5 BIG-IP LTM product to a faster BIG-IP hardware model, and it plans to migrate more of its business services, including corporate web and remote access services, onto the platform. 

“The new VIPRION range of hardware will allow us to leverage Virtual Clustered Multiprocessing (vCMP) technology to migrate physical hardware to virtual appliances. This will enable us to utilise services and features that are not available to our current hardware,” said Lucia.