Brocade has announced that the College of West Anglia (CWA), one of the largest further and higher education colleges in the east of England serving much of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and parts of Lincolnshire, has installed its high performance IP switch technology. This deployment will upgrade its network, improve reliability and underpin a raft of new IT initiatives campus-wide, including voice over IP (VoIP), campus-wide wireless LAN (WLAN) and HD video production and transmission.
In April 2006, the CWA merged with Isle College to become one of the largest further and higher education colleges in the east of England. With four main campuses at Kings Lynn, Isle, Wisbech and Cambridge (Milton) along with various local learning centres, CWA has more than 10,000 full and part time students, 1,300 staff and an annual income of 36.5 million. CWA was awarded grade one 'outstanding' status in the last Ofsted inspection report published in February 2008.
Toby George, CWA's head of IT Services, said: "After the merger with Isle College [in April 2006], we looked at the IT environment required to support the enlarged institution and it became obvious that considerable investment was needed to improve reliability and put in place an optimised IP infrastructure that would help us move forward while reducing costs."
CWA faced various problems with its old network. First, a disparate mix of technology was used on the various different sites, which it inherited when the two organisations came together. This posed several problems from interoperability to network management issues that decreased overall efficiency. Second, the existing core network switches were unreliable and nearly end-of-life as they were between five and seven years old. Third, inter-campus bandwidth and server interconnectivity was inadequate. Finally, network-monitoring capabilities were limited in the old switches resulting in management difficulties.
Martyn Smith, CWA's network coordinator, commented: "Pre-merger, we were running separate systems which had to be amalgamated together so that one network served the combined institution, which then put considerable load on our main data centre. Upgrading was paramount and the business case practically wrote itself."
CWA IT staff developed a matrix of features and requirements - involving around 100 different criteria - that were needed from its new networking equipment to ensure the right technology was chosen. The team thoroughly researched the market and considered various manufacturers. The college deployed two Brocade BigIron RX-16 Layer 2/3 Ethernet switches at the core and two Brocade ServerIron application delivery switches have been supplied by Brocade partner, Vanix, in a deal worth around 138,000.
Brocade's BigIron RX series switches were ultimately chosen because they met CWA's stringent needs, offered the best price/performance, with Vanix providing comprehensive support and maintenance.
Smith added: "For example, the Brocade switches offered wire speed performance so throughput is better than competitive products, they're IPv6 ready and Brocade has a 16-slot chassis in the BigIron range which meant we could reduce the cost-per-port and save money by buying two rather than three chassis to meet our needs."
sFlow monitoring technology was another important reason for the selection. A hardware-based statistical sampling solution monitoring down to byte level with no degradation in switch performance, sFlow allows CWA to see with clarity what is happening to network traffic and where it is going in real-time.
Smith added: "sFlow allows us to pick up student related issues - such as individuals playing peer-to-peer games - so that we can manage our network resources better."
The Brocade BigIron RX-16 switches are located at CWA's main data centre in King's Lynn, dual linked for resilience, along with the Brocade ServerIron application delivery switches which will be used in future to load balance a Blackboard-based online virtual learning environment.
With the new Brocade network, CWA is integrating numerous services onto the new network infrastructure to maximise the investment made and reduce costs. The Brocade BigIron RX switches now underpin a new Mitel 3300 VoIP solution which is being installed to save money on inter-campus calls, with the expectation that video conferencing will be rolled out shortly as well. Similarly, now that the wired network has been upgraded, the college is implementing an IP-based campus-wide security system and WLAN to support the use of laptops in lectures and in student areas.
Equally, CWA has installed an iSCSI-based SAN to support its virtualised server environment which is IP-bandwidth intensive and required additional network performance. In addition, CWA has recently launched its own Internet television station, called Spring Board TV, where programmes are produced in HD as part of media courses, with the equipment available for possible commercial use at a later stage. Gigabit to the desktop was required to support video editing and streaming, with the obvious 'knock-on' effect being the requirement for faster switching in the core.
George concludes: "I have absolute trust in Brocade. We've had 100 per cent uptime from the Brocade BigIron RX switches and they have met all our requirements at a cost-effective price."
Paul Phillips, Regional Director, UK and Ireland at Brocade, stated: "CWA has put in place a 'future ready' reliable networking environment which will support the ongoing expansion and development of the institution and ensure that students get maximum use from CWA's teaching facilities."
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