As schools near completion of their E-Rate filing for this year, one game-changing E-rate technology has the potential to save schools precious time and money. The technology–a new network design concept called Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)–allows schools and other organizations to replace their current network hardware such as routers and firewalls with a single, multipurpose device—while moving the “brains” of the network to a central software console.
This emerging network model offers a number of potential benefits to users, including less hardware and cost, simplified management and greater flexibility to deploy new services. When bundling Ethernet service with virtual routers, schools may be able to use Category 1 E-rate benefits to achieve significant savings.*
How does NFV Save Schools Time and Money?
1. NFV provides less equipment, more functionality: NFV uses virtualization technology to decouple network devices from the software that powers them. With NFV, network functions go from being on limited hardware to virtual functions, creating limitless possibilities for networks. The bottom line is transitioning from lots of equipment to one box.
2. NFV makes management easier: Hardware devices (usually from different vendors), such as routers, firewalls, and WAN accelerators, each require unique skill sets to configure and manage. When changes are required, they must be made manually, box by box, often across multiple facilities and locations—a time-consuming, cumbersome, expensive process that can be subject to errors. But what if you could deploy any combination of these functions on one general-purpose device? And, what if you could configure and manage these functions through a single, centralized software program? That’s the thinking behind NFV technology.
“I see Network Functions Virtualization as an important part of the future of education networks, as a part of an overall shift to cloud services and simplification of network management tasks,” said Marie Bjerede, Project Director for the Consortium for School Networking’s Smart Education Networks by Design initiative.
(Next page: Another way NFV saves money; E-Rate eligibility information)
3. NFV allows for flexibility, protection: One NFV technology solution is AT&T FlexWare, which has the ability to streamline a school district’s network infrastructure, allowing IT leaders to build simpler, more agile networks.
The solution consists of a single AT&T owned and managed FlexWare Device at each school site, running virtual network functions (called FlexWare Applications) from best-of-breed vendors. These applications include virtual IPv4 and IPv6 routers from Cisco or Juniper Networks, with multiple options that can meet various needs—as well as a virtual firewall service with intrusion prevention, virus protection, and web filtering capabilities from Fortinet and a virtual WAN accelerator from Riverbed.
By deploying software-based appliances instead of network hardware, school districts can expect easier network deployment and management thanks to the minimization of cost, labor, and time associated with buying, installing, configuring, and maintaining separate routers or firewalls.
In a traditional network environment with customer-owned premises equipment, users have to physically replace the routers and other equipment when making significant upgrades to the network. With AT&T FlexWare, however, services can be upgraded simply by pushing software updates to the FlexWare appliances.
Also, replacing network hardware typically requires a large up-front capital outlay. By contrast, AT&T FlexWare allows for predictable costs with monthly service billing. AT&T FlexWare also has the potential to save schools on the total cost of network ownership, since they don’t have to pay for costly new equipment every time they upgrade their network—and schools don’t have to service each piece of equipment individually.
Finally, AT&T FlexWare helps make school networks more agile and responsive to shifting needs–virtualizing key network capabilities enables schools to deploy new network functionality quickly through simple software updates.
“Instead of having to rip and replace routers, the intelligence of your network can easily evolve to meet changing needs,” said Rupesh Chokshi, Associate Vice President of On-Demand Services for AT&T. “We can rapidly expand capabilities with additional virtual network functionality.”
School districts can start out with a simple deployment of routers and then add new services as needed—making them future-ready.
NFV E-rate Eligibility
When virtual routers are bundled together with AT&T Switched Ethernet service, this combination may be eligible for E-rate support as a Category 1 service.
“With the old model, when you upgrade your network, you have to upgrade the equipment to handle those speeds,” said Chokshi. “With AT&T FlexWare, you can add virtual network functions or upgrade software quickly. It’s a much more nimble environment.”
He concluded: “This solution allows school districts to have the same network capabilities as the top Fortune 100 companies.”
* AT&T identification of certain services as “eligible” or “non-eligible” for Universal Service (“E-Rate”) funding is not dispositive. Any conclusions regarding the eligibility of services for E-Rate funding are based on several factors, many of which are not within AT&T’s reasonable control. AT&T will take guidance from the “Eligible Services List” and the specific sections on product and service eligibility on the Schools and Libraries Division (“SLD”) of the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) website www.sl.universalservice.org. This site provides a current listing of eligible products and services, as well as conditionally eligible and ineligible services. This guidance notwithstanding, the final determination of eligibility will be made by the SLD, and AT&T does not represent or guarantee the eligibility of any service or product. Offer subject to change and may be modified, discontinued, or terminated at any time without notice. Other restrictions may apply.
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