L’Anse Creuse Public Schools has always encouraged teachers and students to take advantage of the latest technologies and applications. When it became clear that their outdated, Cisco-dominated wired and wireless network components could no longer handle the flow of traffic and use of sophisticated applications, LCPS turned to Delta for help.
L’Anse Creuse is a large school district consisting of 2 high schools, 4 middle schools, 10 elementary schools, and a number of auxiliary buildings, each of which housed Cisco switches and Cisco wireless APs throughout. It quickly became apparent the existing systems were outdated and needed to be replaced. Delta leapt to the challenge enthusiastically. Having worked with Delta in the past on a smaller switching and wireless expansion project, L’Anse Creuse was eager to entrust this large-scale network transformation to Delta’s engineers.
The first of many pain points that L’Anse Creuse faced with their Cisco-dominated network was the amount of throughput the old equipment was lacking. Edge switches within the network were only 100MB capable, which severely limited LCPS’s ability to allocate bandwidth for standardized testing, video streaming, and onboarding of devices. Increasing throughput naturally rose to the top of L’Anse Creuse list of priorities.
In addition, all existing switches were standalone and daisy-chained, making even routine maintenance a hassle. Large configurations, which necessitated accessing each individual switch, represented a large investment of time and manpower. A large priority for LCPS, therefore, was to increase the efficiency, ease of use and maintenance on the switches.
The district was also making due without PoE ports on their switches. Because of the high cost of a mass-switch replacement, Delta had been working with LCPS to patch this problem over the years by adding an Extreme PoE enabled switch to each closet, thereby allowing the connection of wireless APs. Even so, this was not enough to sustain the ever-growing network in the long-term.
When it came to wireless, LCPS’s system was severely outdated. Cisco access points were positioned parsimoniously throughout the buildings, leaving the district desperate to increase the density of their wireless coverage if they were to have any chance of keeping up with the newfound demand coming from classrooms.
Reliable support was another big concern for LCPS. The district looked on apprehensively as their old 3560 Series Cisco switches quickly approached end-of-life and end of hardware support with Cisco. Without this vital support, any problem – no matter how small – could leave them with a complicated, expensive mess.
As an educational provider, student safety – both physically and online – has always been of the utmost importance to LCPS. The original network had security flaws inherently present due to the age of the devices. On top of that, the existing Cisco ASA Firewall was not appropriately sized. The too-small Firewall was causing a bottleneck for all ingress/egress flows. It was apparent the system wasn’t suited to handle the exponentially growing amount of threats every year.
Once the district knew it faced a complete LAN/WLAN network upgrade, concerns shifted to how the district would complete this massive undertaking all while keeping the network available to all users and minimizing disruptions. With only small windows for down time to complete the necessary upgrades, this became the utmost concern and top priority.
Armed with a thorough understanding of L’Anse Creuse’s needs, Delta set out to create a new, higher performing, more efficient network for the district. The design began with a complete wired switch replacement from core to edge, made up of about 300 Extreme Networks Summit X460-G2 switches, and several Summit X670 switches in the core. Combined with 10GB uplinks and 1GB PoE+ on all ports in every closet, these 1GB switches afforded L’Anse Creuse a much higher throughput, increasing their network speed and bandwidth tenfold.
At the same time, Delta proposed 802.11ac Wave 2 Aruba Wireless Access Points into the new network design. The plan called for one AP per classroom in order to provide the density that would help streamline programs like the 1-to-1 initiative and standardized testing on tablets and laptops. With advantages like a Next-Generation Firewall, Client-Match technology, Automatic Radio Management, and Wireless Intrusion Protection, incorporating Aruba access points was a no-brainer for this project.
“The way we see it, funding for the network infrastructure isn’t going to happen every 3-4 years for most customers so proposing current generation products will ensure the customer ends up with products that will be supported by the manufacture as well as Delta for many years to come, realizing their full life cycle. Not all resellers take this angle of approach and look out for the customer’s best interests,” said John Zawacki, Founding Partner and Manager of Engineering at Delta.
The urgency of this project meant that the upgrades needed to be completed while school was still in session. At the request of the superintendent, Delta engineers were asked to do their best to not interrupt the standardized testing going on at the time of the network revamp. “We had to find a compromise here, because we couldn’t do the testing without the network, and we couldn’t do the network replacement during testing.” Said Jason Harmes, IT director at L’Anse Creuse. “Part of our post bid screening process before starting the project was to determine whether or not an integration vendor selected could accomplish everything without disruption. Being we had previous experience with Delta we had no reservations that they could complete the project with little to no disruption,” Mr. Harmes added.
Realizing the importance of the network to standardized testing and other critical applications LCPS was deploying, Delta put their unique staging center at their Bloomfield Hills office to use. Delta engineers were able to configure the entire network off-site, and then install, test, and launch the new network within the district without interrupting a single class. Altogether, the network upgrade process for the entire district took only 30 days to complete.
“We thoroughly enjoy working alongside each of our customers to ensure we propose a solution that best meets their needs including performance, budget, longevity of the components proposed as well as ongoing support costs” said John Zawacki, “Delta strongly believes in proposing current generation products to all our customers to ensure the longest possible product lifespan.”
Post-installation of the wired and wireless, L’Anse Creuse recognized the full impact of Delta’s design. Not long after the LAN and WLAN projects were completed, the district approached Delta with security concerns and their need for a higher performing Firewall solution. “The existing Cisco ASA firewall – which was upgraded not long before the LAN/WLAN projects – just wasn’t keeping up with our internet-bound applications we rely heavily upon. We decided to turn to Delta to propose a solution from Fortinet.” Delta proposed the new FortiGate 3000D UTM Appliances with purpose-built ASIC’s which fit the bill for both performance and budget.
Because of Delta’s carefully designed network, L’Anse Creuse enjoys one of the most performance-focused yet aggressively priced networks in southeast Michigan. The full impact of Delta’s network design was quickly realized among the L’Anse Creuse IT staff and users.
By installing a core of Extreme switches – which have 10x the speed and bandwidth of the old Cisco switches and a 10GB backbone for connectivity between switches – Delta delivered a network that can now handle the massive onboarding of devices seen in the last few years. This allows for considerably faster PC imaging, web surfing, and internet speeds, as well as running more demanding, bandwidth intensive applications and allocating more bandwidth for standardized testing and video streaming. LCPS is now able to connect their server cluster into the network at a considerably higher speed, thereby improving the overall performance of their server infrastructure. “With the new Extreme core switches installed in our data center we’ve recognized faster server backup performance, computer image deployment and local file transfer times” said Brandon Streng, network administrator for the district.
Extreme’s Management Center, referred to as XMC, can be used universally on all of LCPS’s switches. Given this, there is no longer a need for L’Anse Creuse to monitor and manage more than one network switch operating system. In addition, all Extreme switches have stacking capabilities and a single point of management, making it simple to manage, maintain, and deploy large configurations. Stacking switches also meant the district could do away with messy, unorganized closets, instead enjoying neatly organized MDFs and IDFs district-wide. Finally, L’Anse Creuse further benefits by not incurring yearly maintenance costs, due to the lifetime warranty 2.0, extending technical support, warranty, software upgrades, and advanced exchange with next business day shipping that comes with Extreme Network Switches.
District-wide, the previous Cisco wireless equipment was antiquated, consisted of older standards/hardware, and was not adequate to handle the explosion of devices being added to the network. The new Aruba wireless access points now afford L’Anse Creuse the ability to build up their 1-to-1 initiative program, allow students and staff to each use multiple devices and perform standardized testing digitally without any performance issues. Best of all, the entire system is very simple to maintain.
“Just as Delta’s team stated during the post bid interview and vendor selection process, they were able to efficiently complete the district-wide upgrade for both LAN and WLAN without a single disruption to our user community” stated Jason Harms. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the end results. We are delighted with the entire process and solutions Delta has provided us.”
Throughout the installation, the Delta team stringently worked to standardize the labelling and organization of the equipment within the IDF and MDF closets, to ensure that the same discrepancies did not appear in the new network as were left behind during the previous network deployment. “Each data closet is now neat, clean, properly identified, and a breeze to work in” said Brandon Streng.
Delta provided the best possible solution for L’Anse Creuse’s needs as a K-12 provider, putting in countless hours of design, staging, installation, and testing in order to get the network just right. The ultimate result was a high-performance, aggressively priced, modern network, with longevity and a low total cost of ownership all considered up front.
With 18 schools, three specialty buildings, and five support facilities serving 10,000 students, Michigan’s Forest Hills School District could easily be a good-sized business.
The district is also similar to a business in that it relies on technology to do its job. Under Michigan educational standards, preparing students to “use technology and tools strategically in learning and communication” is a fundamental learning objective for all the district schools.
Reaching that objective requires high-performance computer networking capabilities for students, teachers, and administrators. Forest Hills’ network—designed by Bloomfield Hills-based network integrator Delta Network Services — supports the schools’ full range of educational, administrative, and operational needs. Based on Extreme Networks switches and software, the Forest Hills network provides industry-standard speeds, scalability, and bandwidth for applications ranging from learning software to voice calling to security cameras
“Schools have to be very budget sensitive, but at the same time they need solid products. Extreme has solid products that don’t break the bank.”
The Extreme network replaced Forest Hills’ previous fixed network, which was slowly being overwhelmed by increased demand and was eroding the performance of a recently installed wireless equipment.
“Our Cisco wired networking equipment had aged and its capabilities were becoming limited. Our newly installed Ruckus wireless network was also being restricted due to the older infrastructure components,’ said Susan Bordewyk, Director of Technology.
Forest Hills had older Cisco equipment throughout the buildings linked with a single Gigabit Ethernet connection and Gigabit connections within the buildings to the various wiring closets. The switches were 10/100MB rather than higher performance Gigabit Ethernet, and lacked PoE (Power over Ethernet) capabilities.
Forest Hills was looking for a 10 Gigabit wide-area network connecting all of the schools and support buildings, and 10 Gigabit speeds within each building.
It also needed:
Delta Network Services designed a network of about 200 Extreme Summit PoE switches linking all Forest Hills buildings which are spread across 68 square miles around Grand Rapids. The network:
“Delta Network Services presented a solution that leverages an industry leading technology that will provide flexibility to accommodate the changing needs of the district,” said Bordewyk. “In addition to being a cost-effective replacement solution, we were impressed by Delta’s vendor / equipment demonstration, and very optimistic after speaking with both the references provided and other colleagues who had made the switch from Cisco to Extreme.”
The Extreme switches provide the capacity Forest Hills needed at a practical price point. Extreme backs the switches with lifetime warranties and automatic software upgrades – everything from bug fixes to complete upgrades.
“We’ve enjoyed a strong partnership with Extreme Networks for more than 16 years,” said John Zawacki, a partner at Delta Network. “They’ve always been an all-Ethernet company, and they offer solid value products with features, functionality and speeds that Cisco couldn’t provide at the same price. Schools have to be very budget sensitive, but at the same time they need solid products. Extreme has solid products that don’t break the bank.”
Delta also implemented Extreme’s Management Center software to enable Forest Hills’ IT staff to control the network from a single console, which streamlines and simplifies management. Management Center maps the entire network, displays all alarms and notifications, and backs up the configurations of all the switches. With the whole switching infrastructure supplied by one vendor, the IT staff only has to learn one set of commands for core and edge devices.
To ensure a smooth launch, Delta configured and staged the entire network in its own facility before implementing it in the Forest Hills buildings.
“Delta Network Services solution leverages an industry-leading technology that will provide flexibility to accommodate the changing needs of the district,” said Bordewyk. “We liked Delta’s approach of building the network in their own facility, and the Extreme network solution gave us the increased network throughput we were looking for at a cost-effective price point.”
Fraser Public Schools, located in Fraser Michigan, understood that students learn differently than when we went to school. “It was time to re-design the learning environment to better prepare students for their future so they have the skills needed to compete in a global world” said Kris Young, Director of Educational Technology and Information Systems. The district didn’t have much in the way of wireless (Wi-Fi) network connectivity, limited to only a few mobile carts that were moved around the buildings where needed and a couple hot spots. The district realized several key points: students learn differently, remote access was demanded, students want to use their own devices, learning environments are changing, budgets and support staff are decreasing, and technology integration needs are increasing.
Fraser has 9 school buildings on campus, a football stadium, administration building plus a couple service buildings. The existing wired network was limited to 10/100Mbps and didn’t provide Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) to support planned devices such as wireless access points, security cameras and Voice over IP phones. The district required a system that could be centrally managed, allowed for multiple security and authentication methods and could easily be expanded.
The district’s plan was to deploy wall to wall wireless coverage so students, as well as staff members and guests, had anytime anywhere connectivity to all resources on campus with the eventual goal of launching a 1:1 initiative where every student is assigned a wireless learning device.
The district also wanted to embrace students bringing their own computers and devices, known as BYOT, or Bring Your Own Technology. However, since these devices aren’t owned or controlled by the district, they needed a way to safely and securely allow them access to the network. The new WLAN had to provide an easy but secure way for student and guest users, with a wide variety of devices, a simple way to access the network. Kris Young went on to state, “We wanted to ensure our network was easy to access for staff, students and the community when they are in the buildings to visit. And, with limited support staff resources, the system had to be easy to maintain.”
The district’s technology bond consultant, Convergent Technology Partners, assisted in the selection of a company that could provide the network infrastructure that would support their vision of the “21st Century Learning Community”. After evaluating several other vendor’s solutions, Fraser awarded the contract to Delta Network Services, a Bloomfield Township, Michigan-based firm. The solution is comprised of Extreme Networks Ethernet switches for the wired backbone and a WLAN system from Aruba Networks. Kris Young said, “Both the Extreme and Aruba systems had all the features we were looking for and was below our project budget.” “Delta Network Services completed the installation and integration of the systems ahead of schedule, even installing our wireless network before school started when it was initially slated to finish in December. They were a pleasure to work with and I feel their knowledge of the products was key to our successful installation.”
The Ethernet switches from Extreme Networks, all from their Summit family of products, provide a wired network consisting of 10GB connections between all buildings and all closets within the buildings. They provide the district with 10/100/1000MB connectivity at the edge with PoE+ to support the wireless access points, as well as, planned addition of IP security cameras and Voice over IP (VoIP) phones. Fast connections are provided by wire-speed routing within the Extreme Summit X650 at the core. Ridgeline, Extreme Networks management platform, provides and easy and intuitive single point of management for the districts entire wired network. “Our previous network did not have this type of visibility and toolset. This allows us to look into the overall health and state of the network quickly and easily” said Kelly McCarty, Network Administrator at Fraser.
The Aruba system provides high availability, maximum up time, and redundancy. The solution consists of (1) Aruba 6000 chassis with (2) M3 controllers each capable of terminating up to 512 campus AP’s. The dual M3 controllers are configured for redundancy so if the primary controller should fail, all AP’s remain operational via the secondary M3 controller. This level of redundancy is provided via standards based Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol (VRRP), further demonstrating Aruba’s support of standards-based protocols. To ensure accessibility to the wireless network, Fraser has deployed 287 Aruba model AP-105 dual radio 802.11a/b/g/n access points in classrooms and hallways throughout the district. 19 model AP-135 dual radio 802.11a/b/g/n access points were deployed in high density areas such as the cafeteria and auditorium where 500 or more users are expected to connect simultaneously. A big benefit of deploying the centrally managed Aruba system for the Fraser support staff will be when it comes time to roll out a new software version on the access points to support a new feature or function. “You simply upgrade the software on the centrally located Aruba Controllers and the updates automatically get pushed out to every AP in the network. This will save a lot of time.”, said Kelly McCarty.
To ensure the network is easy to access and secure on the client side, several authentication methods are utilized. 802.1X is used for staff and student device connectivity and the Aruba Captive Portal is used for guest users. Guests associate to the wireless network, open their web browser and are quickly redirected to a Captive Portal which forces the user to review the AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) prior to gaining network access. Staff and Student devices authenticate using their activity directory domain login credentials which uses 802.1X as the authentication method that ties into a backend RADIUS server to validate the user name and password. Once these users are successfully authenticated, a unique AES encryption key is automatically assigned to that client’s machine providing secure encryption. No shared keys are required further simplifying on-going support.
The Aruba system software, AOS, allows the support staff to dynamically create security rules based upon individual users or groups of users – granting them permission to systems, protocols or destinations appropriate for their given role in the wireless domain. The entire wireless system is managed from a single point in the network and includes advanced features such as Automatic Radio Management (ARM) calibration (including channel assignment and AP power level adjustments) and user mobility tracking. This feature is especially important for any organization moving towards Wireless VoIP phones where E911 locator service is critical.
“Delta Network Services ensured our project success by pre-staging our Extreme and Aruba equipment in their lab to ensure everything would operate as designed before it actually arrived on-site. This methodology ensured not only a successful project,” said Kris Young.
“Delta was very instrumental in making sure all of our goals and major deadlines were exceeded.”
“The Fraser network/wireless project was very exciting for us at Delta and we are happy to have been a part of the process. The staff at Fraser are visionaries that have an excellent plan to create a 21st Century Learning Community.” said John Zawacki – Project Manager at Delta Network Services. “Customer satisfaction is what Delta Network Services is all about. As a company, we differentiate ourselves from the competition by providing an unmatched level of personalized service to our customers.”
Innovate: We will be a district that focuses on innovation to redesign our learning environments to meet the needs of today’s learner.
Learn: As a Professional Learning Community, we will engage in a process of continuous improvement that focuses on “Learning for All”.
Lead: Fraser Public Schools and our community will be a leader in the design and delivery of a rigorous and relevant education for our students.
Vision: The Fraser Public School District will be an exemplary 21st Century learning community whose graduates are prepared to excel in a complex, interconnected, changing world.