Jul 06 2011

Converged Control

Management technology makes it possible to oversee wired and wireless networks from a single interface.

August 2011 E-newsletter

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If anyone knows how much school districts would value a way to manage their growing wired and wireless networks from a single interface, it's Philip Fiore. As a technology resource for most of Pennsylvania's school districts, Fiore is on the front lines of networking in the state's K–12 schools.

Fiore, assistant director of management information systems for Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit 21 in Schnecksville, Pa., officially manages the technology needs for 16 school districts in Carbon and Lehigh counties. He also counts among the organization's clients the many districts across the commonwealth that don't have their own tech staffs or need specialized expertise in wired or wireless networking and security.

Although some school districts are more advanced than others in terms of implementing converged wired and wireless solutions, all districts are becoming more wirelessly enabled, making the need for these solutions more pressing.

In the Carbon and Lehigh districts alone, Fiore's department has installed wireless access points from Brocade, Cisco Systems and Aruba Networks to complement the schools' wired networking infrastructures. Last winter, it deployed Aruba's Mobile Virtual Enterprise (MOVE), a network access solution that combines the management of wired and wireless networks. With MOVE, the department is able to manage the schools' Cisco, Brocade and Aruba access points and switches remotely, creating multiple efficiencies.
“Instead of visiting every access point we have in the ceiling, we can create one installation, hit ‘send,' and it reconfigures hundreds of access points in a matter of seconds,” Fiore says. “It saves us a ton of time and a lot of manpower.”

The converged network management tool also gives Fiore and his staff significantly more flexibility. If his group has to create a public Wi-Fi network specifically for an upcoming conference, for example, “we can do it in a matter of seconds, where in the past it would involve someone running the cable, plugging in an access point, and reconfiguring access points for the conference.”

Tool Time

The availability of converged network tools like Aruba's MOVE, Cisco's Prime Network Control System, Enterasys' Network Management Suite and HP's FlexNetwork is part of a growing trend toward convergence and consolidation in all areas of IT.

“We're seeing convergence in virtualization, storage and other areas of technology, and it also makes sense in network management,” says Frank Berry, CEO and senior analyst of IT Brand Pulse in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. “For network management, the benefits are obvious: It improves manageability and security while giving IT staff the tools they need to see what's happening to their traffic, from one end of the network to the other.”

Gaining Efficiencies

Estimated maximum savings from operating an integrated access architecture compared with a legacy architecture

SOURCE: “The Aruba Mobile Virtual Enterprise: The Next-Generation Network Access Architecture for the Post-Laptop Era,” Aruba Networks, February 2011

For St. Mary's Academy, a small independent school in Englewood, Colo., implementing a converged network tool is on the “to do” list of the school's small IT staff. Director of Information Technology Curtis Johnson inherited a school equipped with an aging network and static IP addresses. But slowly over the past five years, he has transformed it into a state-of-the-art wired and wireless network that will be managed jointly by next year.

The first step Johnson took, about four years ago, was to design and implement a Brocade-based wired network with fiber links connecting all five buildings on the 24-acre campus. A year after that, he installed an Aruba wireless network that currently has about 30 access points. Today, he is managing the wired network with open-source tools and the wireless network with Aruba tools, but hopes to switch to Aruba's MOVE converged network tool sometime during the next school year.

“We only have a staff of two in our IT department, so the efficiencies we would gain by managing both networks through one interface would be well worth it,” he says.

Johnson is also looking forward to simplified management in the form of more comprehensive reporting on utilization and trouble spots, and says he will use the time generated by moving to a more efficient tool, improving the network even further.

Tips for Making Converged Network Management Work

  1. Configure the converged network management tool to meet users' needs as well the requirements of the existing infrastructure.
  2. Establish quality of service metrics from the beginning; measure such things as network quality and performance; delay, jitter, echo and packet loss; burst and gap metrics.
  3. Maintain enough capacity to handle the converged network now and for the next one to two years. The system should be scalable so that it can grow with the infrastructure.
  4. Determine what level of security risk is acceptable to both the network and its users, and balance that with other parameters, such as speed.
  5. Acquire in-house expertise to manage the converged network, and don't skimp on training