Collaboration

Case study: Networking multiple locations

When an administrator was faced with renovating a college's networking technologies, he didn't just jump in. In part one of this case study, he explains how he tackled the challenge by first developing a plan.


Our 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.



You've just joined an organization that challenges you to quickly “remodel” its entire networking architecture, which links multiple locations. Don't panic. Instead, look at the task as an opportunity to properly structure your network and systems.

I survived such a crisis. I was tasked with planning, implementing, and maintaining a network for a medium-size college, and I didn’t have the luxury of spending much time on the project.

Having had years of experience with large-scale academic systems, I felt well prepared for the task; however, I knew that without a solid plan, I wouldn't achieve success, and the project would never be deemed “complete.”

The plan
The main goal was to support courses requiring computers on three campuses: a technical school and two vocational schools. Additionally, the newly formed IT department received responsibility for supporting the business operations of the college. It was also tasked with researching emerging technologies in education.

To avoid staffing dedicated IT departments at each location, I decided all campuses should be connected via a virtual private network, with a centralized help desk. And in event of WAN link failure, each entity had to be able to support itself for up to 24 hours. With those requirements in mind, I was ready to address campus-specific needs.

Closets and more closets
The main campus (tech school) is in a commercial building with two floors and a basement. This building will be connected to the Internet via the VPN, as well as to the other campuses. Due to the physical layout of the building, three wiring closets will be necessary. One will be on the first floor, centrally located between the computer labs. Rack-mounted in this closet will be a file and print server running Windows NT 4 Server (hosting DHCP and WINS). User authentication servers will also be located here.

A separate POP/SMTP server with listserv capabilities will be implemented in the college, the tech school, and the vocational school to improve communications. A separate Internet Web server and a shared intranet Web server will be required for them as well.

This first closet will have electronically secured doors, a separate climate control system, and a separate breaker panel for future connection to a power generator. The second closet will be located 250 feet from the central closet and will connect all the faculty and staff machines. The final closet will be on the second floor inside one of the two computer labs on that floor. This will need to be a lockable, stand-alone cabinet centrally located between the other second floor lab and the main wiring closet. All wiring to network nodes, as well as between the wiring closets, will be category five with certification for gigabit speeds.

The labs
The first floor will house six computer labs with 20 nodes running Windows 95 with Zero Administration Kit app station configuration and a network printer in each. These lab machines will be initially configured with Ghost disk imaging software. Maintenance of these machines will be performed with a mixture of login scripts, registry extracts, and system policies.

Also, the Internet Explorer Administration Kit will be used to customize the browser to support an extranet-driven experience for users. Four public nodes running Windows NT 4 workstation with the Zero Administration Kit task station configuration and one public printer will be in the first floor hallway. These public machines will be Web kiosks configured using Ghost and Ghostwalker. Their main function will be for checking Web-based e-mail and executing short Web searches. Subtle psychology will minimize time spent on these machines: There will be no chairs for them.

The second floor of the main campus will have two computer labs with 20 nodes running Windows 95 and Zero Administration Kit app station configuration and a network printer in each. These machines will be configured with Ghost and maintained with login scripts and registry extracts. One lab will host vertical applications for the accounting classes and be staffed with an accounting tutor 15 hours per week. The other lab will be configured with vertical applications for a hospitality department, with access controlled by a key signed out by the hospitality department staff.

Business office
In one wing of the first floor will be 12 departments with separate offices. In these offices will be 75 machines for use by individual staff and faculty members. These machines will run Windows 95, with the Zero Administration Kit running in app station configuration. Twelve network printers will be needed.

Five staff machines in the basement will run Windows 95 and Zero Administration Kit app station configuration for the maintenance and telemarketing departments, as well as one bubble jet printer shared from one of the machines. All staff machines will be custom-configured using both attended and unattended installs based on volume. Maintenance to these will be performed using Microsoft Systems Management Server. The browser will be rolled out using the administration kit.

In the next installment, we’ll follow our administrator as he continues designing and implementing network implementation for distributed locations.
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