Switching on

The University of Bahrain has strengthened its network performance with a switching solution from 3Com, increasing speed and efficiency to deliver better services.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  July 26, 2005

Founded in 1986 through the merger of the University College of Arts, Sciences and Education and the Gulf Technical College, the University of Bahrain (UoB) comprises two campuses located near Manama, and offers a variety of academic courses from chemical engineering to business and education. The academic institution has been experiencing rapid growth in recent years, as Dr. Yousif Al-Bastaki, head of IT at the university explains: “The university has long maintained its reputation for state-of-the-art student facilities and now we have added several institutes, expanding from four to eight colleges in the last four years. During this time, enrolment has doubled to 20,000 students and we expect this will grow further in the future,” he says. As a result of the current and projected growth, the UoB took the decision to upgrade its core network architecture, deploying a secure, converged voice and data network from 3Com. The implementation was aimed at improving existing operations by removing the problem of data bottlenecks and speeding up network performance. “The switching solution delivers much greater efficiency, and now the students can readily access all our online resources remotely,” adds Al-Bastaki. Previously, the university had struggled to provide adequate access for its burgeoning student body and faculty. There had been complaints about the speed and reliability of the network as the volume of data expanded exponentially. It was clear the university needed to take steps to improve the network to provide better usability and scalability so that the infrastructure could meet the current demands of the users and cope with future developments, according to Al-Bastaki. “As our student body has grown, the subsequent increase in user traffic caused problems with the previous system, seriously decreasing network speeds, hampering administrative duties and hindering deployment of e-learning applications. We knew that our existing network infrastructure lacked the scalability to meet UoB’s rapidly expanding needs and decided that we should implement a new solution.” Using the 3Com Gigabit solution, comprising of a 7700 Switch, SuperStack 3 Switch 4924 and 48-Port SuperStack 3 Switch 4400, UoB now has the networking power it needs to drive all its administrative and e-learning applications without downtime or interruption. Backed by 3Com’s XRN (eXpandable Resilient Networking) technology, the solution offers the university reliable performance and scalability. “We wanted a solution that would be within our budget. We considered other options, but laying more cable was prohibitively expensive. We looked at the offerings of several other vendors, including Cisco, and found that 3Com could give us the best value and the shortest timeframe for implementation. The solution needed to be up and running quickly,” Al-Bastaki explains. University applications that have been enhanced by this solution include registration, payroll, e-library access, e-books online, video conferencing, file sharing and internet access. The university’s website has also being improved in order to optimise the investment. The site now offers a more user-friendly and comprehensive service to students and staff, enabling administration and admission services such as online registration, as well as providing information about departments, courses and student affairs. “Emphasis on education has been an integral part of Bahrain’s rapid development in recent years and the university has been at the forefront of this progress, providing quality instruction to students for over 15 years. Maintaining these high standards is our top priority,” states Al-Bastaki. The first phase of the implementation involved the transitioning of several departments and key administration functions from the legacy systems. Having completed this stage in less than two months, the university is now about to move on to the second phase of deployment, which will see other departments connected and the remaining functions migrated. Al-Bastaki says the project was relatively inexpensive when compared to other solutions that were available. “The price and performance of 3Com’s Global Service team, working in co-operation with National Computer Sales (NCS), the vendor’s local solution provider and in conjunction with our in-house team, are what sealed the deal for us,” he enthuses. The engineers visited the university’s campuses and analysed its existing network. By listening closely to UoB’s objectives, they designed a bespoke network solution, which they then helped the UoB IT team to implement. Following the actual deployment, the implementation partners were heavily involved with the training of UoB’s IT staff, Bastaki says. “The 3Com team was professional, assisting our in-house team in all phases of the deployment, from strategic planning through to installation, training, and support. This was an added bonus, as we learned a lot from their expertise and experience.” At each of UoB's campuses, the network is anchored by a high-performance, modular 3Com Switch 7700 that provides multi-layer Gigabit and Fast Ethernet switching in an integrated chassis platform. In addition to the redundant fabric installed in each switch, the two switches are dual-homed over fibre, and in the unlikely event that one switch malfunctions, the other automatically takes over, guaranteeing failsafe network performance and preventing any possible outages at both campuses. The switch supports local switching on modules, reducing congestion and enabling intensive applications to run faster and multiple VLANs (virtual local area networks) segregate network traffic and ensure maximum efficiencies. “Hardware multicast routing reduces packet loss and latency times, allowing flawless transfer of data as well as enterprise resource management applications and videoconferencing,” explains Al-Bastaki. The Switch 7700's support of 802.3ae, the 10-Gigabit standard, ensures that UoB's LAN core will scale to meet future bandwidth requirements, including a converged voice and data network, which the university plans to implement. “The university is developing so fast that any technology we invest in now needs to be able to support the systems that we want to deploy in the future.” The solution ensures the integrity of the university’s data and controls network access. Access control lists (ACLs) confine users to the areas of the network for which they are authorised, and Layer 3 Protocol Authentication prevents unauthorised users from entering the network. “The security of the technology gives us peace of mind. We are responsible for a large volume of confidential information and it is important that no one can hack into our system and access this data. It is also important, however, to keep the areas that can be accessed by students restricted. We don’t want them to be able to access the teachers’ files, for example, which might contain things such as examination papers,” points out Al-Bastaki. From anywhere in the world, students and teachers are now able to access the university’s network. Via the improved internet portal, students can utilise voice, video or web conferencing technologies, accessing a variety of educational tools at e-libraries, as well as engaging in video-conferences with their professors. It is also possible for students to submit papers and coursework for grading, and for tutors to return corrections, over the network with minimum delay. Moving forward, the academic institution plans to deploy wireless solutions to connect students across the campus. The new ten gigabits per second standard offers the promise of highly scalable enterprise networking solutions. Further down the line it will be possible to expand the network as required without sacrificing network security and performance.

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