The one-stop shop approach to an IT overhaul

By David Evans
August 26th, 2015

The largest county in the U.S. faces a lot of challenges. Managing a huge IT network is only one

it-integratedSchools everywhere are in the midst of some major changes. There’s the usual implementation of Common Core standards and Smarter Balance assessments, and, for my district at least– San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools in California– a new funding model, the rollout of local control accountability plans, an aging network, and our staggering geography.

By sheer size alone, my district has always faced some challenges. Part of that is to be expected when your schools stretch across a county larger than 20,000 square miles that serves more than 410,000 students and 34,000 teachers, administrators and staff across 540 school sites.

To best address the needs of our learners moving into the 21st century, we set out to implement an upgraded, state-of-the-art technology infrastructure that could deliver the robust, reliable and secure performance. Our approach was to address our infrastructure end-to-end, from the classrooms to the data center and network, which would enable us to prepare our schools and staff for a technology-driven approach that would support both 21st century learning as well as California’s new teaching and assessment requirements.

All of this makes delivering high quality IT services, a major part of my job, crucial to our mission of transforming lives through education. As the head of technical services, my team is responsible for keeping SBCSS’s networks, servers and storage—anything that runs on a wire—operating at peak performance. That’s why we took special notice when we started experiencing slow performance on our network.

This posed a serious problem, especially as ramping up for Common Core meant we would need more than one gigabit of network throughput to ensure sufficient bandwidth for online testing demands. We also realized that the implementation of new educational standards would cause a greater need for security and endpoint systems management along with scalable storage that could keep up with our growing data requirements.

As we started to evaluate the IT landscape, it was immediately obvious there were myriad vendors that could supply various pieces of the IT puzzle. We knew because we had tried many of them, piecing products together to run our system. This time, we felt the best route was to find a one-stop shop that could address all our needs at once.

Adopting this approach would enable SBCSS to embrace hardware and software for our data center, network, and classroom environments. We had learned our lesson because previously, we needed extensive knowledge to manage our current IT infrastructure, which included too many point products. Much of our days were spent managing the specific ins and outs of each disparate product; because if something impacted one, there remained uncertainty about how it may impact the rest.

Future-ready infrastructure

Dell came to the table with a holistic mix of hardware and software solutions that would let us leverage leading-edge technology for servers, storage, networking, security and endpoint systems management. Dell PoweEdge blade servers support our massive VMware infrastructure while Dell networking solutions replaced outdated and expensive Cisco switches to increase our capacity and connectivity at both the network core and edges.

To better address security, SBCSS installed a pair of Dell SonicWALL SuperMassive E10800 firewalls at our data center in San Bernardino with another two at our disaster recovery site in Victorville and a network node for the districts in the High Desert area. Dell KACE systems management appliances addressed our needs for managing hardware inventory, software upgrades and equipment rollouts. Dell EqualLogic storage arrays replaced complicated and expensive EMC storage to help us keep pace with accelerated data growth.

New ways to collaborate

While most people think school districts are off over the summer, my team is busy replenishing or refurbishing our assets so we’re set for school to start again. With our integrated IT infrastructure, we can spend less time troubleshooting problems and more time helping the district embrace new ways to teach, learn, and collaborate.

Through a single pane of glass, we can manage our IT assets easier and better. We can proactively prevent security threats and protect our network from unwanted intrusions. Additionally, SBCSS can stay ahead of the technology curve by ensuring we have ample storage, sufficient network bandwidth and security both inside the data center as well as across all schools and classrooms.

Previously, SBCSS had no control over inventory. With KACE, we displaced a dozen different products and now use one comprehensive solution for endpoint systems management. This enables us to image 10-to-12 systems in a day, whereas previously we could do only two.

As a manager, that is something I truly appreciate. So is having information at my fingertips; we have what we need to do our jobs, even remotely. With our county being roughly the size of West Virginia, the fact we can do things quicker and easier without having to drive four hours to a site is almost heaven.

David Evans is systems security research officer for the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools.