Lessons in LAN

Dubai Men’s College scores full marks by implementing a Nortel-based network at its new Dubai campus. The college intends to use the deployment to propel it into a modern era of technology-aware education.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  July 12, 2005

|~|ibm-dubai-mens_m.jpg|~|Imad Ramadan, IT supervisor at the Dubai Men’s College shows some students around the campus server room.|~|Dubai Men’s College (DMC) has invested in a Nortel-based infrastructure for its campus at the new academic city site in Dubai. The college intends to use the deployment to propel it into a modern era of technology-aware education. The project, which was carried out in partnership with IBM Global Services (IGS), provides DMC’s 2,000 students with access to advanced educational technologies and helps position the college as an e-learning pioneer in the Middle East. “Education has changed drastically in the last few years, growing from traditional classroom teaching to an emphasis on allowing students to learn wherever they are,” says Imad Ramadan, information technology (IT) supervisor at Dubai Men’s College. “Elearning is one of the models that allows us to achieve this, with the role of teachers changing from source of knowledge to facilitator of learning,” he adds. The college seeks to deliver resources to students anywhere and at anytime on the campus and also when they are at home and traveling. Given this demanding remit, it is not surprising that the infrastructure was four years in the planning stage, taking almost two years to flesh out the specification and formulate the design. That said, when it came to installation, most of the infrastructure was fitted in six weeks prior to the implementation going live in August 2004. In all, the college has been kitted out with 4,500 active network points. The implementation is based on Gigabit MultiMode fibre between blocks, which has the potential to go to 10Gigabit, plus UTP Cat6 cabling from NordX to the desktop. In terms of core switching, DMC opted for four Nortel Passport 8610 core switches, which gives a total backbone throughput of 3Tbytes/s. The core switches allow DMC to house services and users in different zones. For edge switches, DMC has stuck with Nortel, investing in 103 5200 10/100/1000 switches, with a total of almost 5,000 ports. The college has deployed 35 IBM xSeries systems in its server room. DMC broke with its Nortel focus when kitting out the wide area network (WAN). The college does not connect directly to the outside world, rather it and all other colleges connect to a central office in Abu Dhabi and from there they go to the internet through an 8Mbytes/s ATM link. The other colleges use Cisco routers so DMC followed suit to ensure consistency and compatibility. The college sees a number of key benefits to the system from helping students get to grips with the kind of infrastructure they will encounter in the work environment, to helping them broaden their studies by including a lot more resources. The college sees the ultimate return on its investment as attracting the best students. The university feels the elearning environment positions it well against its competition. The college’s IT team tackled a number of issues during the wide–ranging implementation, from wireless and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) to storage, management and security. The college decided early on that wireless would be a key enabler of the ‘knowledge anywhere’ ethos of the implementation. “Mobility is key for the college, we have started a laptop initiative and are moving towards a 100% laptop campus,” says Ramadan. “Students bring their own devices, and in some courses it is compulsory to buy a laptop through a scheme set up by the college,” he adds. DMC has chosen a wireless switch approach for its deployment, which uses dumb access points. This concentrates the real intelligence in the wireless switch and contrasts with the more typically used mode of wireless deployment, which gives the access point a greater role in traffic processing. The college deployed wireless switches and access points from Nortel. The college has been more cautious on VoIP and is carrying out a pilot for 50 users including management staff and some teachers. The college has deployed Nortel phones and IBM has offered to extend this to a full scale solution (300+ users) once the pilot has been completed. “We like IP telephony, it gives us one unified system and lets users operate fax as well as e-mail from the desktop. At the moment, it is restricted to the campus but when regulation issues are resolved we will be ready to explore opportunities. Above all, the infrastructure is there so we are ready,” says Ramadan. The storage infrastructure was installed at the same time and with the ambitious aim of providing one gigabyte of disk space for each student, which can be accessed by the student from anywhere on the campus. The college uses a layered storage solution, with data that recent data and data that needs to be accessed quickly and frequently housed on the IBM TotalStorage SAN, with data being backed up to the IBM TotalStorage UltraScalable Tape Library (LTO) after a defined period of time. DMC has installed 400Tbytes of tape capacity. “We take full back-up every month, plus daily incrementally backups. The information stored on servers stays there for typically three months, although sometimes it is one year for critical data, then the information is recycled on to the tape library,” says Ramadan. He also adds that not all of the College’s services are hosted on-site, with a lot of data such as e-mail stored at the central services office in Abu Dhabi. In terms of management, Ramadan has divided responsibilities into two areas – infrastructure and people. The college uses Tivoli to control all devices and monitor security and traffic across the network. For people, Ramadan has set up IT support based on Peregrine’s help desk solution. Having committed to build an advanced network, DMC realised early on that security would have to be very robust. Along with easy availability of resources, security was cited as the key priority when the network was designed. The college has installed a multi-layer solution with protection throughout the network, with switches at the edge of the network providing the first layer of defence. Moving up the stack, proxy content delivery devices from Blue Coat filter Layer 4-7 traffic so if intruders are using STMP or web broadcasts to infiltrate the network, the college can deal with it. The firm also uses Computer Associates eTrust to push virus updates to network endpoints. At the entry level to the internet, the college has positioned Nortel firewalls and intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) devices from Juniper. Load balancers from Nortel also provide protection against denial of service (DoS) attacks. “The environment we have brings security challenges, that’s why we went with college endorsed laptops. No matter what you do, the minute someone takes a laptop out of the campus, there is a risk,” says Ramadan. “Nevertheless, there has to be fine balance, we have tight security but we can’t let it affect performance or isolate users,” he explains. At DMC, the IT department sets security policy, although it has worked closely with both IBM and Nortel. The college does not have the luxury of a large dedicated security department, so looks to add another layer when possible in form of auditing.||**||

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