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D-Link case study Weston Favell School invests in students’ future with layer 3 switching from D-Link

Large Northants secondary school praises D-Link’s price, performance and ease of use as it sets up campus-wide network in new school complex.

CASE STUDY: Weston Favell School

Background Weston Favell is one of the largest comprehensive schools in Northhamptonshire, with nearly 1,400 pupils from a wide range of backgrounds. A designated technology college since September 1997, the school was recently successful in securing a fourth phase of specialist designation. The secondary school absorbed a former middle school in 2004 and the following year a comprehensive programme of building works began which in September 2008 will see the entire establishment move into modern state-of-the-art facilities at its main site. After merging with the middle school, the leadership team at Weston Favell saw an opportunity to move on from the sprawling network environment which existed in its original home. Recognising the importance of IT in supporting the teachers and administrative staff in achieving their near and long-term goals, it decided to install a new IT network in the new buildings to bring improved speed, performance and reliability. With a greenfield site to work with, the school was looking for a single supplier to provide the networking kit throughout the entire complex.

The problem Systems Manager John McIntyre explains that it was previously working with equipment from multiple different manufacturers: “What we had before was an ad hoc network. We had bought switches over the years from different manufacturers and with different specs. They varied from low‑end products right up to top-of-the-range kit. We wanted to go for a unified switch network where we could manage and control everything that was going across the network. With the move to the new building it was the ideal opportunity to put something new in.” With the building work ongoing for a number of years, Weston Favell had plenty of time to size up the offerings from different networking vendors. “We looked at different companies to see who could provide us with what we wanted. When we started looking we had already made a decision that we wanted a 10Gb backbone and there weren’t that many companies at the time that could provide that. But because we were looking for a network that would last many years we wanted to be future-proofed.”

CASE STUDY: Weston Favell School

The solution Weston Favell spoke to various providers, including D-Link, Cisco and 3Com and quickly decided that D-Link was a good overall fit for what it was looking for. “D-Link products matched the type of functionality we could get from other products and yet they were a better price and the guys were much easier to deal with. We’ve also been offered a good level of support from D-Link and they’ve already given us a lot of assistance. The whole package from D-Link seemed to be better than what we could get from other suppliers.” Weston Favell gave McIntyre the final say on which provider to use and he settled on D-Link. “We’ve built up a relationship with D-Link and the products do what they are supposed to do. We needed to be able to use the switches as quickly as possible with the least configuration, and with D-Link we were able to just put them in and they start working effectively right away. Some Systems Managers might have been daunted by the challenge of networking an entirely new building complex for the first time, but McIntyre relished the task, describing it as “good fun”. With three sections of network combined and managed by D-Link’s Layer 3 network, comprising a new Voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephone system, a wireless network and a separate communications system to contact teachers and staff, the requirements are complex – but manageability and control were fundamental to what the school was trying to achieve. The network has 30 xStack DXS-3350 SR switches located in four purpose-built hub rooms situated around the school. Because they are stackable, one 48-port switch can be connected to seven others and act like a much larger 384-port switch. The stackable option is important to Weston Favell because it offers resiliency across the stack, meaning that if one switch goes down it will not affect the others. It also offers very high speed backbones between the switches, which eliminates bottlenecks and provides everyone on the network with a sufficient amount of bandwidth to perform their functions. An initial confusion about the stacking was quickly cleared up through a call to D-Link, which according to McIntyre, was a good example of the kind of support levels the school has come to expect.

McIntyre explains: “You’re supposed to be able to stack eight switches together but we were only getting seven in a stack and we wondered what the problem was. It was because we had specified a 10Gb backbone as well, which effectively takes the place of one of the switches. When we had initial problems configuring the 10Gb stack, we phoned D-Link and they very quickly gave us three different solutions to the problem. They explained it to us well and it meant we could get onto the next stage.” John was initially looking at Layer 2 switches because the previous network was only Layer 2 and he was not convinced of the benefits to the school, especially considering the cost premium. But after consulting with D-Link, he decided to upgrade the specification to Layer 3. McIntyre explains: “D-Link consultants came in a few times and we looked at where we could put the switches and what level of switches we would need, and it was after one of those consultations that we decided to go for the higher-level switch.” Layer 3 provides several improvements, including the ability to set up Virtual LANs (VLANs) so different sections of the network can be managed separately and to prioritise certain types of network traffic. This clears up the confusion of having everything on the same network and eliminates the need for additional routers on the network, as the Layer 3 switch can do the switching and routing from one device. McIntyre adds: “We decided we had to allocate a bit more in the budget so we could control the network as well as possible. Our last network was a nightmare to control; it was all over the place.”

“Equivalent switches from rival manufacturers needed a lot of configuration, and we couldn’t afford the cost for the set-up on top of the price of the switches, or the time, given our tight schedule.”

CASE STUDY: Weston Favell School

Benefits Manageability and control includes making sure the phones are allocated enough bandwidth so they don’t start cutting out, for example, and ensuring that the wireless network is available all the time. As the wireless network sends out broadcast traffic as well, the school wanted to constrain it so it was only going to the devices it needed to speak to rather than to everything on the network. John McIntyre and his technical team are looking to set up VLANs so the phone network can be managed separately and performance guaranteed once the basic network functionality is bedded down.

On the administration side, meanwhile, one of the complaints McIntyre and his team had before was about speed – as several machines were running on a very old fibre connection. “We had about 20 machines on the end of a

John says that teachers are noticing a big difference. “We’ve increased the speed ten times to what they experienced before. It used to be 100Mbps to every workstation and now it’s 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) to the workstation and our backbone is 10Gbps, which is an enormous improvement over out last network. As we start to implement the additional features of the switches, they’ll notice further benefits.” 100Mbps line which is a lot of machines to have on the one connection; now they have their own individual 1Gbps and 10Gbps back to the server. We’ve had no complaints about speed anymore, whereas we were getting several every week before we upgraded with D-Link.”

All the phones in the school are now on the VoIP network, and again when the VLANs are implemented, John McIntyre says reliability will be improved in this area too. “We did have some VoIP phones before but because we were on a slower network they tended to cut out now and then or we would get a delay. Now with these switches we don’t have issues with that any more. It’s eliminated quite a few problems like that for us.”

John McIntyre adds, “We would definitely recommend that other schools upgrade to the Layer 3 switching solution from D-Link. It has increased the speed and durability of our network tenfold and also given us the peace of mind that we are covered by D-Link’s first-class technical support.”

For further information: D-Link UKI D-Link House Abbey Road London NW10 7BX +44 (0) 20 8955 9000

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