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Upgrading to the next generation of campus networks

Network building blocks support virtualization and mobile wireless today and for the next big thing
University Business, November 2012

From BYOD environments to high bandwidth applications, there is intense pressure on network infrastructures. Upgrading is a high priority for higher education technology leaders. In this web seminar broadcast on September 20, an administrator from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts described how the school faced those challenges head on when it embarked on a fourth-generation upgrade and redesign of its network to meet the changing demands of its users. Improvements included upgraded firewalls, added redundancy and improved user profile management to maintain a secure and reliable network while meeting demand for more high-bandwidth applications, content and services in an increasingly BYOD environment.

Russell Leathe
Director of Network and Computer Operations
Gordon College

My title is Director of Network and Computer Operations, but I like to call myself “Director of Really Cool Technology.”

This is a great time to be in technology. Fifteen years ago when I first started at Gordon College, we had 3 NT servers, a fractional T-1 and all local disks. Today we have more than 100 virtual servers, 300 MB of bandwidth, IPTV, VoIP, IP cameras for security and energy management technology.

It’s been a tremendous 15 years and we’re continuing to evolve. Part of that evolution is changing our attitudes toward IT. Our primary goal isn’t just new technology, but keeping and retaining students. It’s making sure that we give our faculty and staff the technology they need to work with the students. Today’s students are very sophisticated. They grew up with the internet, with iPods and mobile tech. Students don’t know there was anything before wireless. I met a student recently who didn’t know what an Ethernet cable was. It’s important that we understand where they are coming from and what their needs and expectations are to serve them on campus.

Gordon’s campus is so technology-rich that IT is at the center of everything the college wants to do. We are going through an evolution and beefing up our infrastructure. We are eventually going to a 100GB backbone. When you have these sophisticated students and faculty, and use video conferencing and teleconferencing, you need an infrastructure with more bandwidth. We have four redundant cores, so if anything goes wrong with one, another will pick up the slack. Increasingly, students demand wireless everywhere they go. Our wireless network includes 500 wireless access points, broadcasting 802.11 b/g/n. That breaks down to roughly 20 access points per building and a ratio of seven students to each access point.

The majority of students brings at least two devices, usually a laptop and smartphone. Some will also bring a tablet of some kind. And we’re planning for that. With roughly 1,600 students, we have about 3,000 devices on our network at any one time. We have three data centers across campus, each with 10 terabytes of storage. They are connected through an iSCSi infrastructure. We can replicate data in real time throughout the day without downtime. The three centers are redundant, so if we lose one, the others will be available.

We are always thinking about how to innovate and protect our data better. Our next step may be an off campus storage location. To get to where we are now, we really beefed up the hardware foundation of our network, using all Alcatel-Lucent equipment, which is the bedrock of our entire system. Migration to a virtual network was a two-year project. In the past, every new application demanded its own server. Over time, we grew to more than 100 servers, with each running one application but requiring server management and security.

Five years ago, we started researching paths to virtualization because the growth of physical servers was just not sustainable. One of the unintended advantages of virtualization was that we went green. We use less power for the servers and far less energy for air conditioning in our data centers. That amounted to a $60,000 per month saving in energy costs. The advantages to virtualization also included a consolidation of resources, migration without downtime, streamlined deployments, and increased availability for redundancy and failover. Over the years, all the things we’ve done had to sit on a firm foundation and we did that with Alcatel-Lucent technology.

Greg Kovich
Director, Business Development

Real time, data-driven decisions need to be made at Gordon on the next generation network that prepares for a 40GB backbone. With the network that Russ has today, it’s 40GB available and 100GB ready so when the products are there, we can take advantage of them. We have the greenest products on the market. Many industry analysts who have looked at them have found them to be the lowest consuming in the industry and can save users tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the equipment.

Russ’ data center architecture was awarded Best of Interop. We can integrate with third-party applications so you can have a fully Alcatel-Lucent solution or a hybrid solution. The virtual machine manager allows you to create a network profile for your virtual machines. This contains the IP address, Quality of Service, access control lists, VLAN info and other identifiers.

As you move the virtual machine, the network adapts automatically. For strapped tech departments, that’s a nice benefit. We have a very healthy ecosystem. We have partnered with KVM, Citrix, EMC², and others. We are constantly working with these companies to get our products certified, and also for us to employ our application-fluent network strategy.

We are both the best value and the lowest power consumer. When we pull all of this together to look at cost of ownership and ROI, we bring in a marketleading ROI. Russ has made smart choices by building a backbone that can grow with whatever is the next big thing in educational technology. Alcatel-Lucent is proud to be his partner.

View this web seminar in its entirety at