Collaborative learning

As it plans to establish a collaborative learning environment for students, Dubai Women’s College (DWC) has upgraded its network infrastructure with a Gigabit Ethernet solution from Cisco Systems.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  April 28, 2003

Collaborative learning|~||~||~|As it plans to establish a collaborative learning environment for students, Dubai Women’s College (DWC) has upgraded its network infrastructure with a Gigabit Ethernet solution from Cisco Systems. With the improved bandwidth available, the college is planning to deliver messenger, video, voice and data services to its 2200-strong student community.

“We are working on a collaborative learning environment based on Microsoft technologies. Over the next month we will be testing the MSN functionality, and [ultimately] the students will be able to use their laptops to talk to somebody over the network and they will be able to communicate via video and create virtual rooms,” says Jamie Stewart, supervisor of education technology, DWC.

“The applications — the rich voice and video applications — are just in the testing stage at this point. But part of the project has been making sure we have the network to support these services — and we do now,” he continues.

With the vision of collaborative learning in mind and an increasing number of students using laptops around the campus, DWC found its existing ATM local area network (LAN) infrastructure was struggling to meet its speed and bandwidth requirements.

“When we started our laptop initiative we had 1200 desktops on the campus, then we added 200 students with laptops, last year we added 600 students with laptops and this year we added 1000 students with laptops. As we added more devices to the network, speed and reliability became an issue,” comments Stewart.

However, the deployment of 30 Cisco switches, including the Catalyst 6500 Series at the core and Catalyst 2600 switches at the edge, have provided the college with 5000 active network points and a Gigabit Ethernet solution that delivers 100 Mbits/s to the desktop.

“Last year we were using ATM for our local LAN… but we decided to go to a Gigabit Ethernet solution from Cisco. We have 2200 students simultaneously connecting to a bandwidth of 100 Mbits/s to the desktop and Gigabit is proving the perfect solution,” says Varghese Parakattil, IT support specialist, DWC.

“This upgrade has given us the speed and reliability, and it has also increased where people can go on the campus,” affirms Stewart.

Furthermore with 99% of the college’s curriculum housed on servers, it is essential that students have continuous access to this information via a robust and reliable network.

“70% of network traffic is internet access, basically to the resources, which are being filtered for academic use. It [network traffic] is 70% outside of the campus and 30% inside the campus,” adds Parakattil.

Simultaneous to the LAN upgrade, DWC also implemented wireless LANs in communal areas or labs that were difficult to wire. The aim of this is to ensure that students have access to applications, e-mail and the internet wherever they are on campus.

“With the hard to reach areas, in particular our cafeteria and our library, we have extended the network into them using wireless technology. We have also put wireless in some areas where again it is difficult to reach. We have a health science lab where students want to be connected but it [wire] doesn’t work very well,” says Stewart.

Despite increasing its wireless networking infrastructure and continuing to equip students with laptops, most recently 320 Centrino-enabled notebooks, DWC plans to retain both wired and wireless environments. With students and staff using the network to access both internal course and administration information as well as the internet, the shared wireless medium can prove restrictive.

“In classrooms where students want as much bandwidth as they can get, we will continue to be wired for speed and reliability,” says Stewart.

DWC is also examining the security and speed concerns of wireless networks, and specified that its last intake of laptops came with wireless security chips. However, the college believes that the restrictive nature of its campus, combined with network and security management solutions, will ensure the integrity of its wireless infrastructure.

“We have very few people coming on to campus with their laptops and connecting wirelessly. [Although] that will change when we add wireless to some of our main conference areas, security hasn’t been a huge issue because it is a fairly private network,” says Stewart.

However, the college is planning to strengthen its security infrastructure with a solution from Cisco. “We have three people managing the network, and we use HP OpenView as our network monitor. We are also using CiscoWorks to manage our Cisco equipment, and we are in the process of buying a Cisco solution for network security monitoring, as well as using some host-based solutions from ISS,” says Parakattil.

Despite DWC also consolidating its server environment at around the same time as upgrading the network, the migration to the Cisco infrastructure proved straightforward, taking just a week to complete during the students’ vacation period.

“The switch over was very smooth… We spent a weekend doing the administrative side and then went around the college after that hooking up the classrooms. It was all done in approximately one week,” says Stewart.||**||

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