As with other aspects of life, education has undergone tremendous changes with the rise of the internet. Teachers and students increasingly are using classroom PCs and the web for research as part of the regular curriculum, and they’re also using web-based applications to support instruction. For Georgia’s DeKalb County Schools, however, these trends were causing a problem: The communications infrastructure that provided access to these applications and the internet was too slow to serve the growing traffic volume.

Based in Decatur, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta), the DeKalb County School System is the second largest school system in Georgia, with 143 elementary, middle, and high schools that serve more than 100,000 students. The school system, which employs 13,825 full-time employees, had relied on 256 Kbps links for its elementary and middle schools and T-1 connections for its high schools, but students and teachers faced longer and longer page loading times when they used the web.

Finding the solution

Because the curriculum was fairly consistent from one school to the next, DeKalb’s IT staff recognized that caching content at each local school would eliminate most of the bandwidth issues. By using these low-cost caching appliances, the district could eliminate the problem without the need for far more expensive network upgrades.

In 2003, the IT staff tested several competing caching products, and they ultimately selected Stratacache Flyer appliances. While individual schools had varying bandwidth requirements, the staff determined they could use caches that handled 1,000 transactions per second (TPS) for the smaller sites and 2,000 TPS caches for the larger sites.

“Stratacache’s Flyer product won the test hands-down,” says Joseph Swing, assistant director of MIS for DeKalb County’s technical and support services division. “Stratacache has a wide selection of caching systems, and the Flyer products had the best performance in our testing.”

Once testing was completed, the district set up a pilot implementation in five schools. Stratacache representatives came out and deployed those systems in a day. “We gave them an IP address scheme and a naming convention for the cache servers, and they did the rest,” Swing says. “Everything worked as planned, so we went immediately into a full rollout.”

Within 45 days, Flyer caches were up and running at all 143 sites in the district. “We had a very fast and trouble-free deployment,” says Swing, “and the Flyer systems have worked flawlessly ever since.” The caches have required little to no maintenance, he adds.

Up and flying

The Flyer caches made a huge difference in web page access times, district officials report. Before the caches were deployed, users waited up to a minute for pages to load over the internet. But by serving 70 percent of access requests locally, the Flyer caches gave students and teachers immediate access to pages.

As a result, classroom research projects and web applications are now delay-free. Students can cast a broader net for research within the allotted class time because they’re not waiting for page loads, and teachers can be more productive with faster access to web-based applications.

Richer content, faster connections

Over the past year or so, digital video has again increased bandwidth requirements. The Flyer caches are still delivering wait-free performance, but the school system decided to invest in an all-fiber network to make sure it stayed ahead of the demand curve. DeKalb County Schools has recently completed deployment of this all-fiber network for its facilities. Now, the network provides 1 Gbps access for every school–and nearly 20 of the largest schools have 10 Gbps access.

Because this network change required the remapping of school IP addresses, Swing relied on Stratacache for help. “Stratacache has been absolutely marvelous,” says Swing. “In the fiber conversion process, we were changing our IP addressing scheme. Stratacache worked along with us to reconfigure the cache servers and get the new addresses on them.”

As it looks to the future, the DeKalb County School System is well prepared for advancements in internet-based content and applications. With reliable, cost-effective products and outstanding service, Stratacache has been a full partner in the district’s web acceleration program.

Links:

DeKalb County School System
http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us

Stratacache
http://www.stratacache.com

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