Bandwidth and Brawndo power PDXLAN party

Posted by Humphrey Cheung

Portland (OR) – You can never have enough bandwidth or energy drinks.  This is the motto that hundreds of gamers will use over the weekend as they attend the PDXLAN gaming party in Portland Oregon.  LAN party coverage is nothing new, so we’re covering the unsung, but still very technical aspects of a LAN party, namely the power and network connections.  For most of the day, I followed more than a dozen volunteers around as they spliced network cables, configured routers and guzzled cases of Brawndo energy drink to stay awake.

16 Comcast cable modems provide a total of 480 Mbps down and 160 Mbps up

PDXLAN is being held at the Holiday Inn Portland Airport convention center and I could start with the insane Comcast Cable connection that pushes 480 megabits per second down and 160 megabits up, but I’ll concentrate instead on the energy drinks first.  You see I’ve never had a Brawndo before, but I drank two today and I’m WIDE awake.  In fact, I typing so fast on this keyboard that the D and K keys keep flying off.

BrawndoO comes in a yellow can the same size as competing energy drinks, but the similarities end when you open the can.  Toxic waste would be a good description of the liquid’s appearance because I swear it looks like anti-freeze and concoction practically glows.  The stuff doesn’t taste half-bad and most people describe it as carbonated gummy bears.

Looking on the back of the can, I was surprised that it “only” contained 100 mg of caffeine or about twice the amount as a can of Mountain Dew.  But wait… my eyes deceive me, there are two servings in a can.  So, it’s like I just drank four cans of Mountain Dew in one shot.  Would you like me to set up 400 chairs?  Sure!  How about splice hundreds of Ethernet cable ends?  Sure!  Run a mile and box Mike Tyson?  No problem!

One router per modem

Well the energy drinks helped the set up crew power through running the main network drop from Comcast to a cable distribution box that boosts the signal to 16 Comcast modems that have been specially modified to do 30 megabits per second down and 10 megabits per second up.  The modems connections are then bonded together for load balancing for an aggregate bandwidth of 480 Mbps down/160 Mbps up.  I personally verified the insane speed of this network by downloading a few Linux distribution ISOs in just a few minutes.

Every modem connects to a D-Link Router which then connects to a gigabit Cisco switch. PDXLAN network administrator Daaniël van Siereveld going by the handle “Xilace” set up 16 virtual LANs that constantly ping popular DNS servers and Google servers.  Thanks to some specialized software, a router will be disabled if its ping signal is lost.  “I can unplug 10 ports from the swich and still be OK,” Xilace told us.

Xilace has been the network administrator for a few years and has many interesting stories to tell.  One time the main switch locked up because too many people started their computers at the same time.  LAN switches maintain a table of computer hardware addresses and ports.  The switch usually is fast enough to deal with new addresses, but when you have hundreds of computers this is a different story.  “We used cheaper switches before that would hard lock when everyone plugged in at once.  Not good because the only thing we could do is reset.  People weren’t happy at all,” said Xilace.

Ethernet cables are then run from the staff switches to 10/100 switches (with gigabit uplink) on each of the dozens of tables around the convention center.  Some people are pushing the stuff to upgrade the table switches to all Gigabit ports, but PDXLAN organizer Matt “Vector” Conwell told me that an all gigabit network would be overkill.

This looks like a bad combination

Conwell adds that he’ll be tracking traffic to each table and will provide detailed graphs showing that computer slowdown will probably be caused by non-network problems.  “Most people don’t realize that it’s probably their hard drive and the ten people that are grabbing files from it over the network at the same time,” said Vector.

Unlike other LAN parties, PDXLAN doesn’t prohibit file sharing between players, but there’s one thing that doesn’t fly here and that’s porn.  The network staff are constantly scanning the network for adult file transfers and offenders are lured on stage with a fake prize winning and then publically embarrassed.  “I think it’s awesome that fathers bring their sons to play here, so I have to keep it safe for everyone,” said Vector.

Power requirements are also extremely important at a big lan party.  At home, people usually pile on electronics onto sockets and daisy chain surge strips, but you can’t do that at a venue with hundreds of gamers.

Daisy chaining strips is just not allowed here, not only because it is stupid and will probably trip a circuit breaker, but the Fire Marshal will cite you for the offense.  Every section of tables seats 22 people and has four power drops with three ports each.  Surge strips are run off each port giving a potential for 60 connections per section (assuming 5 port strips).  This, according to Vector, is more than enough for most people.

Fatal1ty may be a world famous gamer, but volunteers blow off steam by temporarily defacing his poster.

But there are crazy people with insane rigs that need more power AND network speed, so these dedicated folks usually purchase multiple seats.  “We have people who buy two side-by-side seats.  It gives them more space, more network drops and more power,” said Vector.

I’m here till Sunday so there will plenty more news from PDXLAN.  For now the Brawndo is wearing off….