Vaughan overhauls network for better customer service

It’s hard to promise service delivery improvements to citizens when your network conks out unexpectedly for a half an hour at a time.

That’s why the City of Vaughan, located north of Toronto, recently completed

an overhaul of its wired and wireless networks connecting all 12 of its administrative buildings using technology from Enterasys Networks.

Although IT services director Dimitri Yampolsky can’t say how much the whole project cost – it was phased in over three years – he says the price tag pales in comparison to the value of a network that works.

“”The return on investment is not a hard dollar return, it’s in reliability and the efficient management of networking technology and we’ve got that,”” says Yampolsky. “”Over the last 12 months our network has been down zero times, which is one of the deliverables we wanted to achieve. On average, before that there were significant interruptions – for a half an hour or more three to five times a year.””

The network overhaul was done using Enterasys X-Pedition routers, Matrix Ethernet switches, Vertical Horizon workgroup switches and RoamAbout wireless solutions. It was undertaken as part of the city’s strategic plan, called VaughanVision 2007, which is a set of priorities, objectives and goals and includes as part of its mandate service delivery improvement through the use of technology.

“”One of the primary focuses for city council is customer service excellence,”” says Yampolsky. “”We are going down the road of providing a whole slew of electronic services to customers, so if those services are to be deemed excellent in terms of service levels we have to have a robust, reliable network, and that’s where Enterasys comes in.””

About 80 per cent of the new network is wired; the rest is a combination of wireless and software.

According to Yampolsky, the implementation of standards-based technology that replaces the city’s mostly proprietary infrastructure has enabled technical staff to more quickly diagnose and resolve network problems. Enterasys was chosen over vendors such as Intel, he says, because it offered the greatest functionality for the lowest cost.

The challenges that arose during the undertaking involved not only establishing standards for all switches, but undertaking the conversion in a way that allows users to continue working without experiencing interruptions, he says.

Enterasys was able to accomplish that, says Armughan Ahmad, national account executive for Enterasys Networks, because its equipment is fault-tolerant.

“”Redundancy is built into the switches so they (Markham, Ont-based integrator Albert White Technologies) were able to bring down a portion of the network and transfer it to their network,”” says Ahmad. “”Because it is fault-tolerant, they were able to add and upgrade and change things on the fly.””

The company’s technology is also policy-driven, he adds. What that means is users can create user profiles that apply across the entire network. So rather than tech staff spending their evenings and weekends configuring each user’s computer manually to update anti-virus protection, for example, “”they’re able to drive policy from one end to the other in a few clicks rather than upgrading the entire 100 switches in the network.””

The technology has also allowed the city to establish guest networks, he says. For example, if a city employee walks into a City of Vaughan library and logs onto the network, he or she will have the level of access specified by their credentials. “”If not, they only get access at a port level to the Internet, and if they’re accessing it at a port level it’s much more secure than any software that enables the network to block traffic.””

Even applications can be provisioned, says Ahmad. If a finance department employee is logged in, he or she can be allotted the higher bandwidth that an application such as J.D. Edwards requires than a user who is mainly using word processing applications and surfing the Net.

“”So rather than the tech person being dispatched to tweak the bandwidth, they could do it by policy whereby any time that finance person puts in his credentials, the network automatically knows that person is in finance so he should get ‘X’ MBs of pipe,”” says Ahmad. “”In the network today it is very hard to do that automatically from one console and to drive management like that.””

Vaughan has 220,000 residents and 7,000 businesses.

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