School puts resilient networking to the test

A leading Victorian girls' school has successfully completed a beta trial of expandable resilient networking (XRN) technology in what is claimed to be the first such implementation in Australia.

Methodist Ladies College, located in the Melbourne suburb of Kew, was a 3Com selection to beta test its XRN equipment.

“MLC needed a fail-safe environment so we can effectively deliver fast and reliable access to the network for Internet, e-mail, file and print services, and most importantly, for online curriculum to all students via, the MLC intranet,” Peter Grasso, the school’s network services manager, said.

“We looked at the big vendors, and for XRN the timing was perfect. To date we have been dissatisfied with the lack of a good Layer 3 Gigabit fail-over solution that didn't require an on-site engineer to implement. We have a large investment in 3Com equipment, so the choice was logical for us.”

Janet Smith, director of technology at MLC, said technology is integral to the curriculum and learning at the college, which it is claimed was the first school in the world to introduce notebook computers for students in years five to 12.

“MLC values technology very highly and sets the global benchmark for the integration of technology in curriculum,” Smith said. “Downtime is simply not acceptable. The reliability of our network connectivity is paramount, even though it is transparent to the user.”

For a school, MLC's network infrastructure looks impressive. The main campus consists of multi-mode fibre links connecting each floor of the school's buildings back to a central server room. There are more than 2000 switched 10/100MB Ethernet sockets scattered around the campus for staff and students. Each building has one patch panel per floor, consisting of 3Com Superstack II 3300s with a fibre module and a matrix module, and a couple of 3300XMs. In total there are more than 90 3Com 3300 series switches in the campus. At the receiving end of all these switches and fibre links are a Corebuilder 9000, a 4900 and 4060 Layer 3 switch, connected via XRN. A remote campus connected via ISDN and the Internet connection is via a 1Mbit Optus HDSL link.

“I can't think of anything simpler [than XRN],” Grasso said. “You configure up your first switch with VLANs, routes, and the like, and then connect in the other Layer 3 switch (It needs to be one of 3Com's 4000 series) with a special matrix cable. When the devices are powered up they are both managed from the same IP address like a traditional superstack.

"What this means for our students and teachers is that our network system is constantly available. Having a resilient routing core certainly gives us more peace of mind!”

Grasso said 90 per cent of XRN configuration can be done via the Web-based GUI and a command prompt is available for the rest.

“If you need a cost effective, redundant, Layer 3 Gigabit solution, it's a technology well worth investigating,” he said. “The current version of XRN only supports two devices; larger enterprises may need more than that for their environments. Having said that, upcoming versions of XRN will be able to connect more switches together.”

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