Open Networking is Ideal for Education


The Consortium for School Networking’s 2019 K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report outlines the priorities and hurdles facing IT leaders across the country. When it was released earlier this year, Education Week summarized smartly,

“The biggest challenges facing today’s K-12 technology leaders are no real mystery. School technology chiefs are worried about cybersecurity. They have limited budgets, which have to be stretched to manage a flood of new devices, software, and apps. And they’re focused on how all that new technology and data can support schools’ bottom line: good classroom instruction.”

Education professionals, be they educators or networkers, are committed to the same thing: delivering a quality educational environment for students. Like most in the private sector, they work with varying degrees of budget and staffing challenges.

These traditionally small IT teams are now managing hybrid cloud environments, and are responsible for everything from back-office HR and finance systems to student testing and internet access, along with the necessary and appropriate firewalls and filters.

Recently one of the 30 largest school districts in the U.S. had reached a crossroads. The district was nationally recognized for the quality of the education they delivered, in part due to their investment in technology. That investment, however, was putting a strain on their network and data center infrastructure. With the rise in application traffic throughout the entire district, the IT team realized that they needed to upgrade the performance of their switches, and would also benefit from enhanced visibility into traffic, applications, and services.

The challenge was to upgrade their infrastructure without adding expense or complexity. At first blush, this seemed impossible.


Starting Fresh with Open Network Switching

As an existing Cisco customer, it was clear to the district that updating the data center infrastructure with a vertically integrated Cisco solution was going to be too expensive. With cost consideration top of mind, the team evaluated open networking solutions that could lower costs while also enabling them to choose the best combination of networking hardware and software to meet their specific deployment requirements.

The district chose Dell EMC Open Networking switches because they deliver a cost-effective, high-performance, and highly scalable network foundation that reduces the costs and complexities of building and scaling the network across one or many data centers. The Dell EMC Open Networking switches are ideal for a data center modernization project like this, with support for 10, 25, 40, and 100 Gigabit Ethernet connections costing as little as half of what you’d expect to pay for a legacy network switch.


Adding Network Automation and Visibility with Pluribus

Selecting the right network operating system (OS) is a critical success factor, as the OS unlocks the functionality, services, and performance from open networking switches to realize the most value. The district quickly recognized that Pluribus offered several key advantages compared to other open network software options, including superior software-defined networking (SDN) architecture and fabric-wide visibility and control.

While most SDN solutions use a centralized controller, Pluribus distributes SDN control intelligence across all the switches in the network.

According to SDx Central, a controller acts as the brains of the software-defined network, serving as “a strategic control point in the SDN network.” A traditional controller runs on external servers – typically three are deployed for redundancy – and holds a centralized view of the entire state of the network. The controller typically connects to the packet forwarding nodes via an out-of-band (OOB) management channel. This means that either the controller or the management network can become a single point of failure.

Pluribus Networks’ controllerless SDN approach also enables visibility of the entire state of the network but distributes that state and intelligence across all switches – in other words, each node in the network has a view of the network’s full state, not just its neighbors. There is no need for redundant, centralized controllers, eliminating substantial cost and complexity as well as those single points of failure.

Another point in favor of the controllerless SDN approach is that it uses standard Layer 2 and Layer 3 protocols for the underlay. The IT team realized that they could insert the Dell/Pluribus solution into their existing Cisco environment, including connecting with their existing Cisco Nexus spine switch, which would have been impossible with alternative SDN approaches. After a few conversations, the IT team recognized that Pluribus brought deep Cisco expertise to the table, both in terms of product integration and technical support, and would be able to ensure a seamless integration with their existing Cisco infrastructure.

The district’s IT team also recognized significant advantages in Pluribus’ approach to creating multi-site data center fabrics with end-to-end visibility and control. In particular, when facing repeated security attacks, the district can use Pluribus Insight Analytics to quickly identify the characteristics of an attack and take action to block it with a single command updating policies across the entire network.


Bottom Line

The move to open networking and next-generation software-defined networking has delivered significant financial, technical, and operational benefits to the school district. They upgraded and automated their data center infrastructure, delivering greater capacity and improved performance for students and employees across the district, and substantially improved operational agility, visibility and response time, all while benefiting from the economics of open networking.

To learn more about this deployment, read our case study.



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About the Author

Jay Gill

Jay Gill

Jay Gill is Senior Director of Marketing at Pluribus Networks, responsible for product marketing and open networking thought leadership. Prior to Pluribus, he guided product marketing for optical networking at Infinera, and held a variety of positions at Cisco focused on growing the company’s service provider business. Earlier in his career, Jay worked in engineering and product development at several service providers including both incumbents and startups. Jay holds a BSEE and MSEE from Stanford and an MBA from UCLA Anderson.