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Maynooth University modernises network to meet growth challenges

Maynooth University in Ireland has installed a Juniper-based campus network to support its future growth plans

Maynooth University in Ireland has deployed new campus networking capabilities from Juniper Networks as part of a drive to modernise its networking capabilities and improve overall efficiencies.

The university traces its history back to the 18th Century with the foundation of the Royal College of St Patrick. Along with University College Dublin, University College Cork and NUI Galway, it forms part of the National University of Ireland, which has a total enrolment of around 77,000 students.

However, despite forming part of a federal university system, its IT infrastructure is run completely independently – with the exception of its access to HEAnet, the Irish equivalent of the UK’s Janet academic network.

In 2014, Maynooth upgraded its HEAnet connection from 1Gbps to 10Gbps of capacity to support the growing amount of external traffic generated by its students and faculty. At this point it invested in Juniper’s SRX services gateways to improve performance.

However, as a smaller educational establishment, Maynooth had been running a collapsed core network – a network where the core and distribution layers are merged onto one layer – said ICT manager Dearbhla O’Reilly. However, as its student numbers climbed, it became clear this would no longer suffice.

“There were performance issues and it was no longer scalable. We couldn’t add services or buildings, and we had to do constant patch-up jobs to keep it running,” she said.

Additionally, the university’s auditors had raised concerns that it only had one location for failover and disaster recovery. O’Reilly turned her attention to implementing a full campus network, taking advantage of Maynooth’s two sites in the town to build two different facilities.

Having already deployed Juniper’s services gateways, it made sense to put Juniper at the heart of the datacentre network.

Maynooth picked its QFX5100 Ethernet switches to sit at the core, with copper connections served by EX4300 Ethernet switches in a virtual chassis configuration. This allowed O’Reilly to connect multiple switches as a single device, enhancing scalability.

Basing the core on QFX5100s allowed Maynooth to transition away from a Layer 2 switched environment to a Layer 3 routed model.

Enabling growth

This means that as the university continues to expand and adds more buildings, it will no longer have to keep adding new switches in a vain attempt to catch up. It has already opened a new building housing both its computer science department and O’Reilly’s IT department, and is building new halls of residence as well.

“The ease of setting up was fantastic compared with what we had been used to. Any of our staff that had Unix experience found they could also use the network equipment because they intuitively understood it.

“We’ve implemented a new live core, new perimeter routers and gone through a live datacentre migration involving multiple suppliers’ equipment in critical roles,” she said.

The network was launched with little fanfare, said O’Reilly, but users began to notice the difference in performance and a reduction in latency almost immediately.

Efficiency improvements

Maynooth has a reputation for climate science, and its researchers now benefit from much faster access to Ireland’s High Performance Computing Centre.

Elsewhere, user services and the day-to-day running of the university have both seen efficiency improvements as students, academics and administrative staff are better able to access to tools they need.

Under the bonnet, added O’Reilly, the ICT department regained a significant amount of rack space by replacing its chassis-based systems, and uses far less power.

In the future, because applications can simply be slotted into the design, the department will not need to go through a design phase every time it wants to do something new. Indeed, it has already extended its virtual private network (VPN) connectivity and connected the university’s finance and human resources (HR) systems, which are housed in third-party datacentres.

O’Reilly’s ICT department is also exploring future enhancements to Maynooth’s networking capabilities as a result of its set-up.

“Our next big project will be to look at the planning and design of Wi-Fi, which has been built up piecemeal over the years,” she said. “It’s not going to fall over tomorrow, but it does need refreshing.”

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