Case study: Giving education a push into the 21st century

When our engineer signed on with a college, he didn't realize he'd be asked to renovate the system's entire network. Meeting the Herculean task, he learns the challenge never ends.

The guest contributor for this series is an information technology professional with degrees in computer science and information management. He possesses more than 10 years experience and has earned multiple industry certifications, including Net+ and an MCSE.
Our systems engineer began the story of his college’s networking renovation a couple of months ago. You can read his first report here.
The library
The library is in a new building with two floors, a ground level and basement. The new facility is located 250 meters from the main campus building. The decision was made to connect it directly to the main campus building via multimode fiber.

The first floor houses 25 public nodes. I chose to load them with Windows 95, and they’ve been configured to use the Zero Administration Kit task station setup. One network printer services all of them.

Also on the first floor are five staff nodes running Windows NT 4 Workstation. They’ve been loaded with the Zero Administration Kit app station configuration and a single network printer for staff-use only.

There’s a computer lab in the basement. Twenty nodes running Windows 95 and the Zero Administration Kit app station configuration, along with another network printer, are located there. In addition, there are also 20 public nodes running Windows 95 and the Zero Administration Kit task station configuration, with a separate network printer and scanner for those nodes only.

However, the IT department is restricted to a single wiring closet in the library. Our best opportunity was to centrally locate it, which meant going to the basement, right next to the boiler room.

All the wiring was run using category five cable with gigabit certification. This wiring closet also serves as a shop to service computer equipment and store surplus parts. As college budgets are tight and must be maximized, an office that accommodates the help desk and development team has also been located in this room.

Recovering the satellites
The college also has two satellite campus locations. The first is approximately 100 miles to the south, while the other is another 100 miles to the east. Both campuses are directly connected to the Internet using virtual private networks supported by local Internet service providers.

Both of these campus facilities are housed in two-story buildings. Each has a wiring closet on the first floor. The two locations have four computer labs with 20 nodes and a single network printer each. Everything is connected to the wiring closets using 10/100 Mbps hubs and category five wire.

Inside each of the wiring closets, I chose to locate a BDC for the local NT domain, a file and print server, and a proxy server. (They’re nice closets; what can I say?)

All lab nodes are configured with Windows 95 and the Zero Administration Kit in app station configuration. Also, I installed and configured Internet Explorer 4 using the IE 4 admin kit.

A second technical school, just a mile away from the main campus, is housed in a one-story building. For several reasons, including cost, speed and location, it’s connected to the main campus via a microwave link.

The one wiring closet at that site stores a BDC for the single NT 4 domain. It also runs DHCP and secondary WINS services for the school. There’s a Windows NT Server 4 file and print server running with Services for Macintosh as well. Finally, a proxy server is necessary. It also hosts the auto-update version of IE 4 configured with the IE 4 administration kit.

All nodes on this satellite campus are connected to 10/100 hubs in this closet via category five wire certified for gigabit speeds.

The site supports four computer labs with 20 nodes. Each lab also has its own network printer. One of the labs has Power PCs running Macintosh OS 8 and a suite of Adobe products for graphics classes. Since the assignments for these classes require files reaching many megabytes in size, computers are equipped with Iomega Zip drives.

Two of the labs have Windows NT Workstation 4.0, again with the Zero Administration Kit in app station configuration. They’re also loaded with a special software bundle for animation classes. The assignments in these animation classes are often several hundreds of megabytes per file, so home directories have been configured on this location’s file server for all the animation students.

Network engineering students needing to experiment with network services as part of their curriculum required the segregation of the final laboratory from the rest of the system. This has been done via a Windows NT 4 server acting as a router.

Networks never get smaller
Faced with a daunting challenge earlier, I’ve been happy with the results of our architecture. Of course, since the IT bug began hitting the schools not long ago, everyone is singing for more.

First the faint calls for groupware were heard in the halls. Then, mumbles were heard in boardrooms for e-commerce capabilities and online classes.

What have I learned? I've learned that the law taught in graduate school is correct: Networks never get smaller, and they never get less complex.
If you'd like to share your opinion, please post a comment below or send the editor an e-mail.

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