B.C. college upgrades network one switch at a time

Bandwidth-intensive applications like geographic mapping and engineering design have led a Prince George, B.C. school to begin a major network upgrade.

The College of New Caledonia will use a modular design running a combination of Madge

hubs and Avaya switches to upgrade the network a switch at a time over the next six months. The post-secondary institution’s three-person IT staff will be trying to find time to do the installs around their other duties.

Steven Shelley, the college’s manager of computer services, says its five-year-old Madge network had reached the point where the load was higher than the network could handle. With Avaya’s product, he says it will have the growth capacity it wants, and will be compatible with the equipment already installed.

“”We didn’t want to put something in that wouldn’t work together,”” he said. “”We have about 75-85 Madge hubs right now that we are replacing with the Avaya switches, but we’re running it on the Avaya backbone.””

Bandwidth pushed by applications requiring a lot of memory were among the key business drivers for the upgrade, Shelly said. Two of the bigger memory hogs were geographic information systems lab, teaching mapping, and the engineering graphics labs running AutoCAD.

“”They were a major draw on the backbone, it made it so slow it was frustrating to use those computers,”” says Shelly.

The new network can now handle that traffic, and is allowing the college to look at new ideas, like a point of sale system for the bookstore, and digitizing X-ray machines in the dental program. Shelly said it is also considering using voice-over-IP.

“”Being an educational institution your funding is never as much as you’d like, so you have to position yourself for the future with the equipment you buy,”” he said.

Kelly Dudra, a channel manager with Avaya, said the College of New Caledonia solutoin is really designed for campus-based environments, or larger enterprise environments that are multi-site. For the college, which has four satellite campuses a considerable distance away from its main campus in Northern B.C., that was an issue.

“”We’ve had a lot of success over the years in the educational space, based on the fact our solutions are very much designed for the enterprise customer with multiple locations they need to support,”” Dudra said.

The challenge with the College of New Caledonia, Dudra said, was the amount of resources they had available to them, from a headcount perspective, to manage the IT infrastructure. The individuals there are always looking for something that gives them the capacity to be more effective with less people.

“”They’re very application-intense at the school, but they also needed the ability of managing the traffic, adding priority to the traffic based on who was using it, time of day issues and application issues, to make sure they’re physically able to monitor and control who has access,”” Dudra said.

The network also includes a management system that gives them the capability of managing not only the individual ports, but also the IP packets that are flowing through the infrastructure.

“”This gives their IT staff a unified platform right across the campus, and because the campus is in multiple cities, it gives them one clean feel to manage all the traffic,”” said Dudra. “”But it also allows them to see how each own of their switches is performing from a central site.””

Dudra said the Avaya VisAbility Management Suite will allow the college’s IT staff to manage each one of the individual switches. That means if there’s a switch problem they can see not only which switch is the problem, but they can also see down to the individual port where the trouble be taking place, saving a lot of painful and time consuming trouble-shooting.

The college’s Shelly said that capability has already come in handy, when they were able to quickly isolate and repair a computer infected with the computer worm that struck the Internet recently before it could propagate itself throughout the network.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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