School ICT overhaul equips users for the digital age

Friday, 04 June, 2021 | Supplied by: Extreme Networks Australia

School ICT overhaul equips users for the digital age

In 2017 Canberra’s Radford College embarked on a five-year ICT modernisation strategy to completely re-architect and refresh its technology infrastructure to better meet the needs of teachers and students for a constantly evolving digital age.

The independent co-educational K-12 school worked with technology partner Qirx to prioritise IT projects as part of its vision for a digitally enabled teaching and learning environment, as well as strengthening and simplifying overall security and operational management.

“Qirx has really taken the time to understand our needs; they really know the challenges we are facing, and our budget and our technical limitations in supporting a solution. That’s driven a lot more simplicity in our infrastructure and helped to reduce the highly specialised skills needed in my team,” said Carl Flanagan, IT Manager, Radford College.

Earlier this year the College completed the first phase of the program with the deployment of an Extreme Networks Fabric local area network and cloud-managed Wi-Fi 6 throughout the 18.6 ha campus.

“With our existing Wi-Fi solution, we couldn’t get the density we needed to support the connectivity demands we had from students,” said Flanagan.

A case in point is the College’s ability to manage connectivity for NAPLAN Online testing. In the past, students had to complete their online exams from separate classrooms, so that Wi-Fi access points were not overloaded. Radford College can now bring 150–200 students together into the hall and connect simultaneously for NAPLAN Online, ensuring all students have a consistent, standard exam environment and they can be more efficiently supervised while completing their online tests.

Real-time visibility and granularity of reporting through ExtremeCloud IQ allows the College’s IT team to pinpoint and rapidly resolve any specific connectivity issues for specific students and devices during these exams.

“We received a monitoring report from NAPLAN after testing that listed 70 network interruptions for about 500 students who sat the tests. Other than the issues we already knew about during the NAPLAN tests, all the other ones showed a perfect connection, which made us feel very confident that it wasn’t our network that was causing the interruption — that issue was being caused further upstream,” said Flanagan.

Radford College’s replacement of its core and edge switching infrastructure with Extreme’s Fabric networking has radically changed the approach to the school’s technology architecture and management of communications and computing resources.

Deploying Extreme Fabric Connect (based on enhanced Shortest Path Bridging/IEEE 802.1 aq) has created a more agile, simple and inherently secure network across the campus environment at Radford College. Enabling faster network changes, increased stability, high-performance multicast, and unified wired and wireless networking, Fabric Connect has transformed enterprise networking at the school. That is allowing the College to easily deploy new infrastructure and connect new devices to the network, with security, access rights and configurations automatically updated based on predefined policies and profiles.

“With traditional network architecture, it’s really difficult to achieve a level of redundancy and resiliency within our network because of the sprawling nature of our campus. Thanks to Extreme Fabric, we now have this flexible interconnectivity between devices that means we can take a matrix approach to our overall ICT architecture,” said Flanagan.

The networking upgrade was preceded by a number of other modernisation projects with partner Qirx. The first saw the replacement of the College’s traditional three-tier data centre and server environment with a hyperconverged Nutanix Enterprise Cloud solution, which now takes up just 5% of the physical space of its predecessor, cutting down on power consumption and other IT costs.

Qirx also worked with Radford College on the deployment of a Veeam solution for advanced backup and recovery, and the implementation of a next-generation FortiGate firewall solution, to protect the school from both internal and external threats — which was essential to support the introduction of the College’s large-scale BYOD program.

“We now have three data centres — three cores — in three distinct locations across the campus and, if we want to add another core into a new facility being built next year, we can do it easily. If a switch or a computer room goes offline, there is minimal disruption; it might affect three or four classrooms. Most of our network traffic just bypasses the outage and finds the next best path,” said Flanagan.

Extreme’s fabric networking and network access control (NAC) features have also strengthened security and simplified operations for the College. Network policies ensure that new devices and equipment connecting to the network are automatically configured and assigned appropriate access privileges based on their profiles.

The network is also enabling far more granular segmentation, protecting the College’s core assets. In the future, Flanagan plans to implement micro-segmentation and certificate-based device authentication, further strengthening security and access control across the environment.

“From an infrastructure perspective, our Extreme Networks upgrade was the last big piece in our technology modernisation strategy. We are now in a refresh cycle where we can continually develop our solutions to meet the requirements of a Zero Trust environment,” he said.

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