Company: EnterasysCustomer: NGFLSubmitted by: MCC InternationalDate: June 2000A revolution is taking place in schools throughout the UK, as many traditional teaching aids are obviated by the advent of computers in the classroom.
Using PCs as primary work tools, and to access the Internet as a teaching aid, are now standard components of curriculum’s around the country.But at the same time, IT policy makers in the education sector are anxious that schools are also able to communicate with each other over a standardised infrastructure – one that will supersede the ‘islands of computing’ endemic to many seats of learning. North Lanarkshire Council is in the forefront of Scotland’s contribution to getting the UK’s educational centres properly wired; and the canny local authority has chosen Enterasys Networks’ SmartSwitching products to achieve it.It’s all part of the Government’s National Grid For Learning (NGFL) initiative. A ‘mosaic’ of interconnected networks and education services based on the Internet, the NGFL will support teaching, learning, training and administration in schools, colleges, universities, and libraries.
The roll-out is the culmination of an ongoing commitment to bringing state-of-the-art technology to its educational establishments, believes Bill Connolly, Educational IT Advisor to North Lanarkshire Council.
“We have a history at North Lanarkshire of developing and supporting advanced IT solutions,” he says. “But experience has taught us that there’s no point in putting in technology for its own sake. We are mandated to pay close attention to the specific requirements of teachers and their pupils, along with the support departments that surround them.”Mobility is an “essential aspect of the school requirement” Connolly continues, as children move from one classroom to another – and from one subject to another – at regular intervals across the school timetable. “Therefore, we needed a solution that could provide a high level of mobility and flexibility, in addition to meeting the core educational requirements of access and security.”Connolly points out that “Schools are actually a far more dynamic environment than most offices.
The demands placed on school networks are often higher than those applied to enterprise networks in commercial organisations. People would perhaps be inclined to assume that a school network would not be subjected to the same duress as those in the commercial world. That’s a complete misapprehension.”Networks are not new to schools, although originally they came in to support applications for administrative departments. Extending deployment to networks built for use by pupils and teachers, pupil use is “quite a different proposition”, says Connolly.
“One of the challenges we faced was migrating users of existing systems to the new network, without any disruption to the regular curriculum. This required a great deal of pre-planning and co-ordination. We spent months considering this before we started thinking about products and suppliers.”
A dedicated 10/100Mbps Ethernet switched LAN running from Enterasys Virtual LAN (VLAN) enabled switches support each school; this ensures that the network can be adequately partitioned to create multiple secure virtual networks. This system will enable fully secure mobility for users and the relocation of PCs.
ISP DIALnet will provide a managed Internet service which will enable the schools to take advantage of high quality connectivity for its LANs, as well as access to the National Grid for Learning (NGFL), and a range of online services, such as conferencing, newsgroups, chat – and even web publishing. In addition, filtering software will protect schools from unsuitable content, email messages, and viruses.
A key part of meeting the need for operational flexibility was ease-of-configuration of the network devices. “A clear view formed early on that remote configuration of networks would not be suitable for meeting localised requirements,” reports Bill Connolly. “Therefore the system [we wanted] had to be easily re-configurable by onsite network administrators.
The Enterasys VLAN manager delivered this facility perfectly.” “The fact that the control software came from the same supplier as the hardware, was another commendation,” added Connolly.
Although the schools project was Connolly’s first major project based on Enterasys solutions, he admits, “Enterasys kit was not completely unknown to me”. He had encountered it on a previous project, and had been impressed. However, Enterasys’ track record in the education sector was not well-known within North Lanarkshire, so although the technology was clearly capable, Enterasys was “not an automatic choice”.
In line with the dictates of the tendering process that govern IT procurement within the public sector, contending solutions had to be evaluated and tested to ensure they were right for the job. “In actual fact, the SmartSwitches performed superbly, and truly won through on the merits of the technology,” Connolly says.As well as the speed, reliability, security features and configurability already mentioned, Connolly says he and his team were impressed the “sheer ease of management. Excellent features, at a price point that was within our budgetary parameters – very important on a large rollout like this. Enterasys switches deliver a level of functionality and flexibility that other vendors found difficult to match.”
The North Lanarkshire Council team spent much of 1999 project planning.
An extensive consultation process was conducted to include everyone who would be affected by the implementation in each school – particularly teachers and school administrators – to ensure that all potential problems could be identified and planned-for long before any kit arrived onsite site.The consultative team included a board range of specialists – from network designers and electrical engineers, to school administrators and facilities managers. Safety is a core consideration in any network, but the issue is heightened due to the fact that its principal users would be youngsters. This applies to the implementation phase and the completed network.”Another challenge we faced is finding somewhere to locate the actual switches,” says Connolly. “Physical space is at a premium in most schools, so we often had to work hard to find somewhere to construct comms rooms, wiring closets, and so forth.
Again there are strict Health & Safety issues to be adhered to.””We began with a pilot phase involving two secondary and two primary schools,” recalls Connolly. “We then rolled-out to the other schools on a geographical basis. Every school was a learning experience.”Connolly praises Stiell Networks, the Enterasys VAR charged with responsibility for network installation and integration across the entire project, “Stiell’s flexibility and co-operation have been great, and they worked extremely well with the myriad school representatives they had to consult with.
I would say its down to Stiell’s skill that while each network was going in, the teachers and pupils could get on with the job of learning without distraction.”
– North Lanarkshire Council needed a proven, standards-compliant internetworking solution to connect 26 schools, as part of a nation-wide initiative.- The network had to be robust – schools place as many demands on their network infrastructure as any other organisation.- Flexibility was a key requirement – users of the network are very mobile.- The flexibility offered by Enterasys’ network management software was ideal for North Lanarkshire’s needs.- Enterasys partner Stiell Networks’ skill at working within the sensitivities of the school environment was vital to the project’s success.