Troy Shaw, network security engineer at Belton School District 124 in Belton, Mo., says his decision to go with HP ProCurve switches was fairly easy to make.
“We looked at a lot of different products, but when all was said and done, no one switch could compete with a lifetime guarantee,” says Shaw. “I can take out a switch I've had on the network since I started here 14 years ago, and HP will send me a replacement free of charge.”
The lifetime guarantee can save thousands of dollars, especially for hard-pressed school districts, many of which have been struggling with budget constraints.
Belton's HP network dates back to the web explosion of the mid-1990s. Shaw says that during his 14-year tenure at Belton, the district has invested more than $1 million in HP networking equipment. A gigabit backbone network now covers the district's 13 buildings, delivering a 20 megabits-per-second Internet pipe.
The network supports access to the district's school information system, which tracks grades and attendance; a districtwide library database; and a food system, which lets students, faculty and staff purchase meals from any district cafeteria over the web.
The core switches the school district uses are the 5400zl Series and 5300 XL Series switches. The school district has also deployed HP wireless access points, says Shaw, which, among other things, will enable wireless Internet access at high school football games next season.
Beyond the Guarantee
Although the lifetime guarantee is a powerful incentive, there are other reasons Shaw opted for HP, such as the many management tools that are provided with ProCurve. For example, Shaw uses HP's Identity-Driven Manager (IDM) to create virtual local area networks (VLANs) that segment traffic between the students and the staff. Separating the traffic into VLANs makes it easier to assign specific access rights to the district's different user groups, thus delivering greater control of the network.
The district also uses HP's Virus Throttle software to help secure the network. This tool monitors the network looking for suspicious traffic and will lock down or “throttle” a port if malicious code enters the network.
“The HP switches and tools allow us to have a high-level Layer 3 network with minimal cost and overhead,” says Shaw, who adds that the network also paved the way for the district to run VMware and more than 100 thin client machines, as well as simultaneously run IP voice and routine data traffic.
“HP started with the lifetime guarantee a few years ago, and most of the other networking companies have followed suit,” says Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst, enterprise voice and data at Infonetics Research.
“Along with the lifetime guarantee, other drivers that move organizations to refresh their networks include migrating to Voice over IP and simply adding the capacity to handle today's bandwidth-intensive applications, such as video,” Machowinski says.
Increased performance on video applications is an important benefit to the Northwest R-I School District in High Ridge, Mo., which recently upgraded its network from Category 5e cabling to Cat 6 and 3Com networking gear, including a 10-gigabit backbone. The network, which covers the district's 12 buildings over a 30-mile area, was funded by a $2 million bond issue.
“With the new network, the announcers at the high school football games can upload video during the game from the booth,” says Alison Gray, director of IT at Northwest R-I. “This is much faster and less cumbersome than on the old network.”
The added network capacity also makes online educational tools readily available. The World Book encyclopedia is now accessible to the district's students online. And, whether they are at home or school, students can check to see which library books the district owns.
“All of our buildings also have wireless access, which lets our IT staff turn any classroom into a computer lab in a matter of minutes,” Gray adds.
The school district uses the 3Com 5500G as its core switch at all but the two largest sites, which use the7900S. Most of the peripheral switches are 4800G switches. The district also has about 225 3Com 3950 access points.