Private school on a budget upgrades network to improve reliability and access exciting new online education resources
Baldwin School is a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 independent day school for girls. The highly regarded college preparatory is known for its strong commitment to developing scholarship, leadership, and citizenship skills within a supportive community environment, and attracts top-performing students from the Philadelphia area.
Small private schools like Baldwin rely on tuition and endowments to attract top faculty and to fund campus maintenance and expansion. Academics and facilities often take priority over technology infrastructure funding, and these schools cannot take advantage of the economies of scale that public school districts benefit from. Getting the most value for their network investment dollars takes real creativity and resourcefulness on the part of IT staff.
Director of technology John Back arrived at Baldwin School ten years ago and transformed a couple of isolated Apple-based computer labs into a five-building campus LAN that supports over 900 network connections. However, nine years later, Back needed to replace his aging switches as network outages degraded network reliability and put a real strain on his support capabilities.
Back also believed it was important for an academic leader like Baldwin to take advantage of exciting new research networks such as Internet2, being developed by 207 national universities in partnership with U.S. industry and government agencies. Using advanced video and graphics applications supported by the new networks, students and faculty will be able to collaborate with top academic and research institutions. But first Back needed to deliver much higher bandwidth to school desktops.
Andrew Williams of Expand Solutions, who acts as Back's IT network expert, had additional requirements. "Baldwin had originally been designed as one big flat network," he says. "I wanted to be able to deploy multiple virtual LANs (VLANs) to separate traffic between different user groups to improve data confidentiality and introduce more security to the network."
Back asked Williams to research small-business switches available on the market that would meet his reliability, functionality, and performance requirements and fit within his budget parameters.
Williams was evaluating Dell, HP, and 3Com switch offerings when a local Cisco account manager told him about a new Cisco Catalyst Express 500 Series switch specifically designed and priced for organizations with up to 250 employees. The Cisco Catalyst Express 500 switch offered more features and functionality than competitive offerings at a price point Back could afford.
The Layer 2 managed switch delivers non-blocking wire-speed Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet performance with built-in intelligence and security features. The intimidating command-line interface (CLI) has been replaced with an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI) that simplifies setup, operation, and troubleshooting. Preset network configurations establish quality of service (QoS), security, and multicast settings to effectively support integrated data, video, voice, and wireless LAN applications.
Williams and his staff installed 31 Cisco Catalyst Express 500 Series switches in school building wiring closets. The access layer switches deliver 10 or 100, megabits to user desktops to support high-bandwidth applications such as video. The Catalyst Express 500 Series switches connect to three core Cisco Catalyst 3560G switches over a Gigabit Ethernet backbone. Back says he spent approximately $75,000 for his 10/100 switches nine years ago. Today, with his five-year leasing plan, roughly $25,000 in out-of-pocket expenses buys him higher caliber Cisco switches with ten times the bandwidth.
Williams says, "One of the many compelling features about the Catalyst Express 500 is its Cisco Smartports capability. We can assign different roles to different ports, and the software automatically adds in specific security and performance characteristics underneath it." He has configured several VLANs for Baldwin School-printers and servers, administrative departments, academic groups, and libraries, among others. He can now manage and control bandwidth, secure access, and QoS to selective groups, and the additional functionality remain transparent to users.
Back and his assistant handle daily operations so they also appreciate the switch's ease of use. "We just bring up the Smartports Web interface, and with just a few clicks we can quickly configure or reconfigure basic parameters," he says. "All the information is right there so we can see what we need to do and get right to it, with a click of the mouse
The Cisco Network Assistant software application provides a global view of the network, displaying all network devices so IT can easily make configuration changes to Cisco switches, routers, and end devices. Williams appreciates how the centralized management program facilitates troubleshooting, "I don't have to go from switch to switch to isolate a network problem. Instead of checking 30 locations, I can monitor all the switches on one screen, and that means I can locate and fix problems much more quickly."
"With our powerful new network, Baldwin can take advantage of advanced applications such as video and teleconferencing to enhance our educational programs."
-John Back, director of technology, Baldwin School
Back points out that working in education trains him to constantly assess how to keep technology costs at a manageable level and still provide a high level of service. He feels the Catalyst Express 500 provides real value for his investment-a very cost-effective switching solution designed for small-organizations backed by the quality, dependability, and technical expertise of one of the top leaders in the networking industry.
Offers high investment value-Both Back and Williams are impressed with the Catalyst Express 500's feature-rich design that supports capabilities such as Power over Ethernet (PoE), voice over IP (VoIP), and advanced security features. As William says, "When we decide to implement these features down the road, we don't have to think, `Can these switches handle it, do we have to buy new equipment?' They have the capabilities we need built-in, ready to go."
Adds functionality without adding complexity-Back notes that the easy-to-use Smartports interface enables his staff to try configuration tasks they never would have attempted with the old command line interface. His staff can take on more responsibilities with less effort and more confidence. Williams adds that his company's junior technical staff was able to install and configure the switches quite easily, "I didn't have to handhold them through the process as I would with a complicated command line program, which frees up my time to focus on higher-level responsibilities."
Provides a solid foundation for innovation-William likes the intelligence within the switch that helps him identify and address problems before they impact the school network, significantly improving network reliability. He also appreciates the flexible VLAN design
that lets him serve applications and users that need additional levels of bandwidth and QoS. With a more reliable high-capacity network, faculty and students have the confidence to experiment with collaborative online academic projects.
Enhances the quality of education-Back believes the new research networks like Internet2 offer exciting new education opportunities for Baldwin School. "Students and faculty will be able to communicate directly with NASA astronauts and scientists, medical researchers, artists, and musicians, and access top institutes and libraries," he says. "With our powerful new network, we will be able to take advantage of advanced applications such as video and teleconferencing to enhance our educational programs."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Cisco has helped public and private schools improve the quality of education while holding down operating costs. To learn more about how Cisco Small and Medium-Sized Network solutions can help your institution, contact your local account representative or visit
This customer story is based on information provided by Baldwin School and describes how the institution benefits from the deployment of Cisco products. Many factors may have contributed to the results and benefits described. Cisco does not guarantee comparable results elsewhere.
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