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Northwest Community College first to benefit from pilot program

Consultrix wraps up major networking, cabling project

Consultrix recently wrapped up a major networking and cabling project for Northwest Mississippi Community College (NMCC), a pilot program for the State Board of Community and Junior Colleges that administrators deemed so successful that the Jackson-based provider of network solutions and services is upgrading 12 of the 15 community colleges’ systems.

“I’m very happy with it,” said Chuck Adams, network administrator for NMCC. “We were not only able to increase our bandwidth by 30% to 40%, but the cost was cut in half. We now have a better product so students can access information faster while saving money on technical support.”

In 2001, the State Board created a blanket networking RFP (request for proposal) for its schools, which had outgrown their aging ATM (asynchronistic transfer mode) networks that were limited to 155 megabits of bandwidth. (By comparison, Mississippi State University’s Engineering Research Center has a 10-gigabit backbone.)

The State Board wanted to develop a technology infrastructure capable of supporting growing enrollment and new student services, while continuing its commitment to the most efficient, cost-effective use of tax dollars.

“Frankly, everybody expected Cisco to win it,” said Mike Miller, vice president of marketing at Consultrix, formerly known as Integrated Network Solutions (INS). “We won it by partnering for the first time with Extreme Networks to develop a solution that would meet the State Board’s infrastructure criteria: a high-bandwidth, gigabit-capable solution that provided stringent security and comprehensive application traffic management. Our bid was much better from a pricing perspective, and from reports, a performance perspective, too. With budget cutbacks, to get the same service for half price is great. To get something that works even better for half price is a godsend.”

The comprehensive solution included a network infrastructure from Extreme Networks, WAN (wide area network) connectivity from AT&T and BellSouth, enterprise software from Citrix and Application Traffic Management from Packeteer, which allowed the network administrator to control Internet activities such as students downloading music, unwanted traffic and recreational use.

“Each member evaluated the bids and suggested what they thought was the ideal solution for our campuses moving forward. Extreme was unanimously chosen as our number one choice,” said Adams, whose college network now has seven Extreme switches in its network core and 71 switches throughout the campus.

Miller pointed out that Extreme’s expertise lies in its mission to create only high-capacity, highly manageable network switches.

“They don’t make routers or anti-virus devices or servers,” he said. “Because they focus only on one thing, they devote their energies toward improving those switches and building on existing platforms. Their research and development dollars are spent on making what they’ve got even better.”

Ray Smith, director of information systems for the State Board, said the pilot program “worked out real well.”

“We now have a higher capacity system with low management requirements,” he said. “Maintenance is easier, security is improved and even though the bandwidth is essentially the same, the information-carrying capacity is significantly higher.”

Rather than using the state’s traditional topology with ATM circuits, Consultrix implemented a less expensive point-to-point design, which Smith explained as “a kind of Ethernet emulation.”

“Consultrix helped put into place low-cost, effective tools to see traffic we traditionally couldn’t see,” he said. “They helped us analyze traffic patterns that have been problems for us. We’ve worked hard on standardization and recently purchased equipment that will allow us to look more effectively into our network for trouble-shooting so that it’s not a ‘Tower of Babel.’ That’s one advantage.”

By year-end, Consultrix will have completed work on a dozen college campuses in the statewide system, and hopes to reconfigure the remaining three campuses in 2005.

“We’re looking at this not only for community colleges, but also as a model for other educational institutions and private businesses,” said Miller.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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