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  • Networking Rack

    Performance and Redundancy – Two Requirements for Modern Network Design

    In today’s K-12 schools, meeting the ever-growing need for bandwidth seems to be the challenge of the day. No longer the exception, mobile devices are now commonplace in many classrooms across the country. Indeed, in our rapidly-growing school system, it is not unusual to see students with more than one device.

    This density of devices, and the hunger with which they consume data, can -- and will -- cause bandwidth issues if infrastructure isn’t properly designed. For wireless clients, this means having wireless access points (WAPs) as close to the devices as possible.

    Gone are the days of being able to have strategically located access points to meet the demands of a handful of laptops. Now, unless WAPs are placed in each classroom, clients are unlikely to be well-served. This is a painful lesson we learned as mobile device usage exploded beyond expectations.

    Though we had a long experience with providing wireless service -- Forsyth County Schools implemented wireless notebook carts in 1999 -- we were unprepared for the rapid transition from notebooks with robust antenna hardware to smaller mobile devices beginning in 2010s. Trying to keep pace with wireless growth while using conservatively-placed WAPs was an unwinnable battle.

    We knew and understood the problem: an access point in every classroom was the only way to provide the connectivity our students and staff demanded. With wireless growth continuing for the foreseeable future, especially with the transition of standardized testing to being wholly online, this was a need that had to be met.

    Luckily, our School Board, Superintendent, and district leadership understood this need. With their approval, we embarked on one of our largest projects to date: the wholesale replacement of our existing wireless infrastructure and related hardware. Not only were we replacing it with newer access points to meet current wireless standards, we were designing the underlying infrastructure to support future standards as well. 

    Every WAP would have two Category 6A cable runs, each able to support 10 Gbps over 100 meters. Though we would only be connecting each at 1 Gbps, we wanted to ensure that we were ready for the next upgrade. Each of these connections would be part of a link aggregate group (LAG), across disparate switches, to provide up to 2 Gbps of fault-tolerant bandwidth per access point.

    With more clients consuming more data, other choke points were likely to surface. Therefore, as part of the wireless upgrade, we also replaced our entire switch infrastructure. All access switches were upgraded to provide a ten-fold increase in bandwidth to our wired clients. Additionally, each of the switch stacks was connected by redundant fiber to the main distribution switch.

    The next upstream hardware to receive attention was the distribution switch. This hardware, which connects the school to the Central Office, was deployed with a redundant partner, allowing for continued operation in the event of a failure.

    One may notice that redundant, or fault-tolerant, designs seem to be a common theme with our hardware. We recognize that an outage -- even lasting only a few minutes -- can have a profound, and negative, impact on the instructional day. Therefore, every network design we make incorporates redundant operation wherever possible.

    In fact, even connections from the schools to the Central Office are redundant. When upgrading the link from the schools from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps, we opted to make this a fault-tolerant design. Utilizing multiplexing hardware, each school has two (2) 10 Gbps links to redundant core switches at the Central Office.

    As our network continues to grow, performance and redundancy both take center stage in providing the quality and resiliency modern education demands. Our users deserve no less.


    Curt Godwin
    Network Operations Coordinator / Network Engineer
    Forsyth County Schools