Cinncinati schools gain bandwidth, save money with WAN management system

Within a 90-square-mile district that covers Cincinnati, most of the city of Silverton, and numerous contiguous townships, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) provides K-12 education to approximately 34,680 students in 58 schools, including 16 high schools and 42 elementary schools. The system’s WAN serves 35,000 networked student computers and 5,000 administrative nodes, including a VPN that allows external vendors network access for systems service, support and monitoring.The Challenge: Give priority to mission-critical traffic
At CPS, preserving access to education-related content and applications has always been a priority. But, notes Network Administrator Paul Wright, “Our bandwidth resources were being absorbed by file-sharing requests.” Worse, the school system’s VPN, which allows its external vendors access to the network, was routinely delayed or completely blocked during the most important time period: the work hours of the district’s day.

On paper, CPS’s connectivity looked strong: it had recently stepped up to one gigabit connectivity through the State of Ohio Education Network, and another 100 megabits of bandwidth available through a secondary provider. Yet even their combined power yielded only 110 – 120 megabits of Internet bandwidth. “During peak usage,” says Wright, “we completely maxed-out our Internet throughput – 100%”

Once the Ethernet connection was upgraded to one gigabit and beyond, CPS’s system was overwhelmed. And, it couldn’t be upgraded beyond 100 megabits; additional throughput would require a new product.

For almost a year, CPS proceeded without a bandwidth management tool in place. The VPN slowed to a crawl, while peer-to-peer (P2P) applications, such as file-sharing for music and videos, went unchecked. Then Wright saw an encouraging report about bandwidth management technology.

Intrigued, he found Exinda on the Web and placed a call. That very day, Wright was in touch with an Exinda Certified Partner, DMC Technology Group of Toledo, Ohio. “I told them about our requirements and our tight budget,” says Wright. “They went the extra mile to meet our concerns and shipped out a trial product, fast.”

The trial lasted three or four weeks. The results convinced Wright and his colleagues that Exinda was the way to go. CPS bought the Exinda 7700 with the 1 gigabit bandwidth key. In May 2009, CPS moved forward with implementation.

“Installation was easy,” Wright says. “I called the Exinda pre-sales engineer two or three times; he picked up the phone right away to answer my questions. Most of my other questions were minor; the Exinda website had the information I needed.”

Overall network performance has improved dramatically. With Exinda in place, Wright estimates, CPS has reclaimed 40% of its Internet bandwidth. “In general, random Web surfing has been squeezed,” Wright explains. “But if we know a site is related to education – or the faculty submit a request – we can put relevant site IP’s in a partition with higher priority.”

The reports have been useful. For example, by reviewing the in-depth data Exinda generated, Wright uncovered a previously hidden source of bandwidth absorption - software updates, set to run automatically. With 35,000 machines in the network, that had become a real problem. Now, upgrades are confined to limited bandwidth during the day so that they don’t compete with mission applications or sites; after school hours, they are given a higher priority with more liberal connectivity.

Additional benefits include the ability to monitor traffic closely. “When we see traffic spikes linking specific stations to a small number of IPs, we can surmise the presence of viruses,” Wright says. “This has helped us identify and fix potential trouble-spots.”

The interface, via a Web portal accessible by any browser, has been “extremely easy” to use, Wright reports. Usage data is refreshed every thirty seconds, providing an almost-live window for monitoring performance. CPS also lowered their expenses.

“We saved at least $12,000 to $15,000 off what it would have cost to upgrade with our old system,” Wright says. “The product has been a complete success and the Exinda engineers, who helped us with configuration and implementation, have been phenomenal.”