CCAC Acquires Flexible and Secure Networking Infrastructure from Cisco to Support Online Services and New Teaching Technologies.
The Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) is the 16th-largest multiple-campus community college in the United States, with an annual enrollment of 90,000 students. Located in Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania, CCAC finds itself in a highly competitive environment surrounded by the neighboring universities of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, Robert Morris, and Duquesne.
To stay competitive, CCAC sets itself apart by making quality continuing education accessible to the western Pennsylvania community. With four campuses, seven college centers, and distance education opportunities, CCAC offers the flexibility today's students require. Providing affordable and accessible education is only the first step to helping its students achieve educational success. To help ensure the CCAC experience is of the highest quality, CCAC offers over 170 educational programs led by exceptional instructors, including some who have been nationally recognized. Quality and accessibility assures that CCAC offers the greatest opportunity to its students-whether they choose to continue their education at a university or seek employment.
Recently, the college found itself challenged to keep up with the increasing technology demands of its students, instructors, and administrative staff. Dr. Christina Russell, director of Technology and Information Services at CCAC, worked with her team to evaluate the needs of these constituents. "We had requests from all the groups we serve to support new technologies and our previous networking infrastructure simply lacked the throughput and stability to support these demands," she says. The student population at CCAC is very diverse; in addition to post-high-school graduates seeking a traditional college education, there are many returning students who want to improve their workplace skills or train for a new career. The diverse mix of traditional and nontraditional students requires the college to provide distance learning programs and 24-hour access to new online systems. The planned migration to online services will help ensure all students have immediate access to basic services, such as academic advising and financial aid. Additionally, new online applications help CCAC further expand student services and educational offerings to better meet the growing needs of the communities it serves. "This is a very demanding student population, downtime is not tolerated, and the expectations for ease of access and quality of service are very high," Russell continues.
Students were not the only group looking for new services; the instructors wanted to take advantage of new teaching technologies such as streaming audio, video on demand (VoD), and online simulations. The college administrative and IT staff were also looking to technology to achieve greater efficiencies and cost savings in the day-to-day administrative and work processes of the college.
As these new online services become available they will generate an enormous amount of data that will have to be stored and protected. To help ensure continuous operations, the school recognized it would need to put in place the necessary redundancies in data and systems. And with so much critical data being stored, it would also need to deploy strong security measures such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems.
In order to support the growing demands for online services and new teaching technologies CCAC decided to replace its existing network infrastructure with a stable, flexible, and secure infrastructure.
"The capacity of the new network will allow the college to encourage the widespread use of technologies such as desktop conferencing, document management systems, personal portal frameworks, and dynamic, interactive applications and will allow access to these applications at any place or time for all students."
- Dr. Christina Russell, Director of Technology and Information Services, CCAC
NETWORK SOLUTION-REBUILT FROM THE WAN UP
The plan was to begin with upgrades to the WAN and then upgrade the campuses' LANs. "You can not successfully introduce new technologies without having the networking infrastructure to support them," Russell says. The college evaluated a number of options to replace its formerly leased ATM-based WAN networking connectivity, and chose Cisco Systems® as its vendor. "Implementing a Cisco optical solution using dark fiber provided us the most stability and flexibility," Ibrahim Garbioglu, network operations manager for the college, explains. "We deployed a dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) optical solution from Cisco Systems, the Cisco ONS 15454 Multiservice Transport Platform (MSTP), to connect our five locations at OC-192 speeds. This provided us a highly scalable solution to help ensure we can easily support our growing technology demands. Today we start with just a single wavelength, but as our throughput demands grow, we simply add additional wavelengths to meet those needs."
The college's optical networking solution will provide a highly resilient, high-throughput network connecting all the colleges' campuses and network operations center (NOC) in a ring formation. This ring is made up of two diverse fiber paths, to help ensure that if there is a fiber cut in the field, that traffic is uninterrupted and service will continue on the redundant fiber path.
In addition to offering high throughput, the multiservice optical network is highly efficient, and can support almost any networking protocol the college might require. This includes traditional voice requirements such as T1 and T3s, Fibre Channel for storage, 10/100 Gigabit, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet, as well as high-speed video protocols. By using one platform that supports many different protocols, the college eliminates the need for individual platforms dedicated to a single transmission protocol.
One area in which the Cisco solution offered significant value was in its ease of use. The college wanted to move away from a leased ATM- based connectivity service to a solution its staff could manage themselves. The IT staff needed a solution they would feel comfortable managing that wouldn't require significant expertise in optical networking at the onset of the project. The Cisco solution will facilitate a gradual build of internal expertise among the engineering staff. "The Cisco DWDM solution enabled us to create a scalable and flexible backbone to support the expected spike in traffic that will result from the current campus LAN upgrades," says Garbioglu.
STORAGE AREA NETWORK EXTENSION WITH THE CISCO ONS 15454 SL SERIES INTERFACE
The college will also be deploying a storage area network (SAN) extension solution using the Cisco ONS 15454 SL-Series interface to provide Fibre Channel communications between the campuses and the NOC. The Cisco ONS SL-Series serves as an integrated Fibre Channel extension device, eliminating the need for a costly external distance-extension device, and supports both 1 Gbps and 2 Gbps Fibre Channel with low-latency generic framing procedure (GFP-T) mapping. It supports the industry's highest Fibre Channel density over protected SONET/SDH transport network in a single network element: 16 protected line-rate Fibre Channels on a single shelf. The Cisco ONS SL-Series Interface Card optimizes the use of SONET bandwidth enabling subrate Fibre Channel services, virtual concatenation (VCat), and data compression to optimize bandwidth in the transport layer.
NETWORK OPERATIONS CENTER AND LOCAL-AREA NETWORK UPGRADE FOR SPEED AND RESILIENCE
Now that the college's WAN has been upgraded, the focus has switched to the LANs serving the individual campuses. The college will be delivering 100 Mbps to the desktop throughout the campuses and the NOC. To achieve this, the college has begun upgrading the cabling at its campus facilities and replacing all hubs and concentrators with Cisco 3750 switches. To upgrade its core network, the college chose Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series switches, which will provide 10 Gbps uplinks to the edge closet and multiple 1 Gbps uplinks to the optical network connecting the campuses. At the network edge, Cisco Catalyst 3750s will provide a cost-effective and relatively easy way to facilitate the anticipated growth in end users who will be accessing network services.
To help ensure continuous operations, the college will also be upgrading its NOC to provide redundancy of critical systems and data, and will deploy the Cisco Catalyst 6513 Switch, which offers industry leading 10/100 and Gigabit Ethernet port densities and unsurpassed levels of network resilience.
Whether to prevent system intrusions or denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, security is a top priority for IT in any campus environment. The college is deploying a number of Cisco security solutions to help ensure its data is secure and its systems continue to operate smoothly.
To minimize the costly threat of intrusions, CCAC will deploy the Cisco Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) Network Module at its NOC, and throughout the network to provide line-rate intrusion detection and prevention. The Cisco IDS solutions enable the deployment of IDS sensors wherever they are needed in the network architecture. Cisco IDS network modules can be used in conjunction with Cisco IOS® Software security features such as virtual private networks (VPNs), firewall, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), Network Address Translation (NAT), and Web Cache Control Protocol (WCCP) to help ensure secure network operations.
CCAC is also planning to deploy the Cisco Firewall Services Module to allow for granular security policing on its infrastructure. Cisco LAN security features will allow the college to have secured, independent pockets of users who need network access across their WAN, but at the same time isolate them so that they can not have any detrimental impact on the network's core functionality.
The Enrollment Management Services department will be one of the first groups to take advantage of these new network capabilities. The department will use the new capabilities to drive workplace efficiencies and improve service delivery and availability 24 hours a day using a Web-based portal. Services such as financial aid applications and administration, admissions, advisement, placement testing, financial processing, and student record-keeping all required extensive personal interaction. "The capacity of the new network will allow the college to encourage the widespread use of technologies such as desktop conferencing, document management systems, personal portal frameworks, and dynamic, interactive applications, and will allow access to the applications at any place or time for all students," says Russell.
The college is currently working on a strategic planning initiative that focuses on technological upgrades as a means to enhance teaching and learning, and engender efficiencies with cost savings in administrative processes. The plan will take advantage of the new WAN/LAN infrastructure from Cisco as a foundation on which to deploy sophisticated technology solutions. Needs already identified include the creation of a virtual teaching and training network to accommodate faculty, and student experimentation. For example, students taking network security courses will be allocated a virtual network enabling them to safely test network security and intrusion detection applications without hampering network performance. Another area to benefit will be the distance learning and workforce training initiatives. Using the high speed, highly available bandwidth, they can launch streaming audio and video as well as VoD to provide simulations and media-rich presentations to students and trainees.