Bolton College has implemented a network management and monitoring system and strategy that allows it to monitor energy efficiency, building systems, CCTV and HDTV alongside the usual network resources and functions.
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The college, located in the North West of England, moved into a new building and had the opportunity to do a greenfield network refresh. “We were very fortunate to [be able to] write off everything we had had in the old building. It was a great opportunity to put in things that were not just up-to-date but cutting edge as well,” says Railton Knott, IT manager at Bolton College.
“We have been able to bring additional things onto the network like the buildings management system (BMS), our CCTV solution, IPTV, access control, a media streaming and archiving solution, and cashless vending. All these different applications that traditionally didn’t go anywhere near the college network now not only run on it, but it makes the network a core, crucial element to the business,” Knott said.
The government’s financial contribution to the building and the ICT systems depended on how environmentally friendly they were. “My remit was to look at every bit of kit: How green is it? How much power was it using? Is it able to switch off?” said Knott. The switches needed to be low power and able to turn down inactive telephone handsets and motion sensor CCTV cameras.
The college shortlisted Cisco and Extreme Networks for the LAN infrastructure and went with Extreme , largely based on price. It implemented Extreme's BlackDiamond 8810, Summit X650 and X450 switches and the vendor's EPICentre network management tool.
Knott likens the transition as going from the Stone Age to the nuclear age in one jump. Retraining and a change in mindset were required for this type of transition. “Previously it was very much a case of when something goes wrong you have to fix it. We have changed the mindset so that we are trying to look for problems before they occur.”
Multiprong monitoring for energy efficiency and smooth networking
Now the EPICentre dashboard is displayed on one of the 40-inch plasma screens in the college's IT support office, providing a visual of the network in map form. Individual switches are viewable and the network topology lines display red or orange if there is a problem. “You can click on that and it drills right down to find out what the problem is,” said Knott.
“We shut down ports in the evening so all the phones and the wireless APs are shut off which is good for energy, but equally for security. We are running reports to show what is being shut down when, and also the quality of service as we prioritise the voice.”
At the same time, the maintenance team is able to manage the building and control utilities such as the heating, all from one station using a BMS controller from Impact Controls that sits on the network.
“The building management system sits in its own VLAN which is monitored within EPICentre so we are aware of any network-related issues that way,” said Knotts.
Integrating management and monitoring tools
At the top of Knott’s wish list is to integrate reporting, including data from the BMS. Currently EPICentre monitors the Extreme backbone, another system monitors the wireless connections and devices, a third system monitors the Active Directory network, and another system monitors the phones. “We are now trying to bring them together,” said Knott.
“We are slowing getting there—we have a couple of developers in-house. I don’t think we are close to getting to the stage where all the systems are seamlessly linked, but we are getting to the stage where we are able to export data from each of the systems into a central database that we can then manipulate,” Knott said.
He added, “We did have the opportunity to go for the Cisco unified system and tie the LAN into the wireless and phones, which would link things in, but for us it did not give us the best of breed in all these areas. If we had gone for the unified system, it would have been a tradeoff for some of the features.”