Case Study

School District Protects City-wide Fiber Network with WhatsUp Gold

WhatsUp Gold availability management tools helps to identify network performance in the Austin Independent School District.

Austin Independent School District (AISD) is one of the State of Texas’ leading school systems, with about 86,000 students and 10,000 staff members spread out over 125 schools. Like practically any school district, AISD works hard to ensure that IT budget dollars go as far as possible to improve each student’s education. Such dedication has helped Austin propel its school district to a very high ranking both in Texas and nationally. It is John Kohlmorgan’s job as Director, Network Services for the Austin Independent School District to stay ahead of major and minor changes that can make the difference between a smooth-running K-12 operation and one driven by crisis management. For some time now the school district has been using WhatsUp Gold, but that wasn’t always the case.

Costly network monitor product lacked levels 1 and 2 discovery

Years earlier, the district had invested in a high-end management system, but it wasn’t a good match. “We had vendor engineers here for four, five, six months trying to get the management system tuned correctly. They system was built on a large, high-end platform, and basically could only provide a layer 3 representation of the network,” Kohlmorgan explains. “It was constantly alarming and turning devices red. It took a full-time person just to sit there and try to figure out what was red, why was it red, and whether it was a real problem or a false positive.”

The system also needed constant AISD staff monitoring and this finally led to a search for an easier-to-use, more flexible solution. Cost was an issue too. “The high continuing cost of such a platform, coupled with extensive training and support, was more than we could afford to spend on one activity,” Kohlmorgan said. “Also we needed a way to know when link failures were due to fiber issues or network failures.”

Limits to both staffing resources and funding for an expensive network management platform led the school district to abandon the system. “We ended up throwing it out. It managed us instead of us managing it.” Since that time, WhatsUp Gold has provided the solution to keeping the school system’s network equipment and city-wide, fiber-based network operating.

Faster alerts, faster network fixes

With so many students, teachers and staff depending on a network that stretches across the city, the IT team must receive alerts as soon as problems occur, before many users are affected. That is why WhatsUp Gold is configured to automatically alert the school district IT staff if there’s a problem such as a power outage. “If multiple conditions are met,” Kohlmorgan explains, “giving us a high degree of certainty that we have a power outage, WhatsUp Gold automatically alerts campus police, our service center and network staff about the problem. When power is restored, WhatsUp Gold sends a second automated alert announcing that the problem is repaired.”

Recently, during a planned fiber maintenance event, a fiber contractor accidently cut the wrong side of a 114-strand fiber connection which resulted in an unplanned link outage. “WhatsUp Gold quickly alerted us,” Kohlmorgan says. “We could visually “see” that the wrong side of the link was cut and notified the contractor that they had cut the wrong side of a critical fiber connection. Without an alert, the outage would have taken longer to isolate and fix.”

Managing a larger network beyond the school district IT network

A key component of the AISD network is the GAATN metropolitan fiber optic network, with 300 miles of cable supporting not just school the district, but several other governmental agencies in the greater Austin area. Since it was built in 1995, this first-of-its-kind municipal fiber network has grown to its current 300 miles, supporting AISD’s 800 servers, 14,000 telephones, 120,000 network ports, 2,500 network switches, 8,000 wireless access points, 3,200 security cameras and a variety of other devices. While the fiber network is self-healing for the most part, it is vital that the AISD Network Team knows the specifics of a problem that can’t be repaired automatically — for instance when a piece of 114-strand fiber cable is severed — in order to fix it before it affects users. That’s where WhatsUp Gold’s advanced layer 1 and 2 discovery plays a role. Many times our GAATN network management team will call AISD for assistance in helping to identify the location of a fiber optic cut.

“Many other network management solutions only ‘see’ network connections at a layer 3 level,” Kohlmorgan explains. “WhatsUp Gold’s greatest asset for us is WhatsUp Gold’s ability to graphically monitor and represent Layer 1 and Layer 2 status and performance with in great detail. Not only do we know what we have, we can graphically represent it with WhatsUp Gold, which makes it easier to determine where to go to locate the cut or the device that is causing trouble.”

Three main benefits Austin Independent School District derives from WhatsUp Gold:

  1. “WhatsUp Gold allows our team to quickly and accurately identify both circuit and equipment outages. It is a management tool that is an extension of our team.”
  2. “WhatsUp Gold quickly notifies team members of failures without their having to watch a monitoring station. We are able to manage WhatsUp Gold without it managing us.”
  3. “WhatsUp Gold offers us the ability to provide multiple network views from many perspectives including dashboards for management, and device views for network staff.”

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