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 When it became clear that their outdated, Cisco-dominated wired and wireless network components could no longer handle the flow of traffic and use of sophisticated applications, LCPS turned to Delta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 It quickly became apparent the existing systems were outdated and needed to be replaced.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When it came to wireless, LCPS’s system was severely outdated.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.