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Dutch college live-streams lectures with SDN and load balancers

Deltion College in the Netherlands beefs up its network with HP SDN and Kemp load balancing technology to support growing traffic levels across its infrastructure

Students set high standards for a network infrastructure. They are heavy users at almost every time of the day and expect a system that will respond to their needs. As part of a network infrastructure renewal, Deltion College, based in the Dutch city of Zwolle, video records its class lectures and makes them available to students as both live streams and for playback.

“Students want to study at times they find pleasant – at weekends or at night – and they want to have access to their online learning environment,” says Rob Vos, computerisation and automation manager at Deltion College

For Deltion, a robust IT environment is a must. Its network must support video – a lot of video. With more than 15,000 students and 1,200 staff, the college wants to give its students total peace of mind when it comes to IT.

“We think students need to focus on their studies – they don’t need the trouble of a slow IT network or a computer that is not working. For that purpose, we have a free service desk where they can ask questions about their private IT products,” says Vos.

When it came to renewing the old network infrastructure, Deltion chose a future-proofed network.

“We wanted a network structure we could at least work with for the next couple of years,” says Vos. 

The innovative network systemalso offered a social return for the computerisation and automation students of the institute, with around 25 to 30 students having the opportunity to gain practical experience during the implementation of the new technology.

“We want our students to harness knowledge and embrace the latest technologies through our own experiences on working environments,” says Vos. 

Software-defined networking

Deltion chose to deploy a software-defined network (SDN) based on Hewlett-Packard’s Virtual Application Networks (VAN) Controller and with Kemp Technologies’ adaptive load balancing technology for SDN. 

Deltion kept its two existing Kemp 2600 LoadMasters and purchased two further Kemp 5400 appliances to steer traffic to some 250 Microsoft Hyper-V servers. Load balancing for Lync in the SDN environment went live at the end of February 2015, with Microsoft SharePoint and Exchange following soon after.

Hewlett-Packard VAN Controller is based on the OpenFlow standard. This standard communication protocol is defined by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) and provides access and communication between the control and infrastructure layers of an SDN. 

“There are more protocols in use nowadays, but we think OpenFlow will be the standard,” says Vos.

Efficiency and performance

The college thought one of the key features of the SDN was the ability to dynamically configure its network bandwidth and servers, as well as automate activities such as application upgrades and backups and provide better protection from potential hacking and denial-of-service cyber attacks.

It also realised load balancing would play an important part in the efficiency and performance of its SDN, as well as supporting dynamic application delivery and quality of service (QoS). The college already used load balancers from Kemp Technologies, so knowing Kemp had a working SDN product that was able to interact with the HP VAN Controller made it the natural choice, says Vos.

“We have two server rooms on different locations. Due to the load balancers the workload is continuously equally distributed on the network,” he says. 

This is important for all applications Deltion is using, but especially for the Microsoft Lync environment. Technical issues with Lync calls have been reduced by 30% to 40% after implementing the SDN. 

“It also completely eliminated the latency issues we were experiencing in our Lync video calls and desktop sharing,” adds Vos.

The college made the decision to configure the network in a hybrid configuration, allowing the switches to revert to legacy switching in the event of a failure. 

“When [a failure] happens, a customer still can make phone calls or work with the online learning environment,” says Vos.

Decoupling control of its physical infrastructure through software will allow Deltion to support a multi-supplier infrastructure. According to Vos, as long as the supplier supports the OpenFlow standard, the college can use the products. Deltion believes the fact it is not committed to one supplier is part of the return on investment (ROI) case. 

“The social return to our students and the increased user experience are big advantages,” says Vos.

When talking about SDN, suppliers often focus on the financial savings, especially reducing staffing costs. 

“That’s definitely not the reason we chose SDN – we wanted to improve our network capacity and customer value. Our staff spend less time on firefighting tasks and can be re-allocated to other projects,” says Vos.

Another advantage is the replacement of Microsoft Forefront Threat Management Gateway (TMG), which the software maker is no longer supporting. 

“This service is supported by Kemp’s Edge Security Pack [ESP], so we don’t have to buy a new system to change the passwords of our users,” says Vos.

He is extremely pleased with the implementation of the SDN and the load balancers as – because it was an innovative project – the college “got all the attention from all the different suppliers”.

“Issues were handled smoothly. Of course, there are always things you have to deal with when you’re one of the first users of a new technology, but this was all fixed very fast,” he says. 

Vos's advice to organisations embarking on similar projects is to always have a backup plan for when things are not working as they should. 

The college switched to the new network while the old network was still running. The college IT staff is currently relocating more and more applications behind the load balancers, with the next step being a backup system implementation.  

“Now we do our backup every night. With an integrated backup system we can do a backup of calls or sent mails directly, making our IT infrastructure more reliable,” says Vos. 

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