School Districts Update Servers, Storage, Security

With more than 412,000 students, 33 school districts and 500 school sites, California’s San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools (SBCSS) has deployed an array of hardware and software solutions to accommodate a limited physical space for housing servers, as well as to deal with networking and security needs.

One of the primary needs driving the discussion for new solutions was the inadequate space within IT headquarters to house more servers. Powering and cooling the proposed additional servers was another challenge.

“Our computer room was bursting at the seams,” reports Dave Evans, system security research officer for the SBCSS. “We got to the point where we could not add one new server.”

As a result, the county decided to switch to a virtual solution. After selecting VMware, the IT team began consolidating physical servers into virtual ones with the use of Dell PowerEdge blade servers. Although some physical servers had to be retained, the SBCSS was able to meet many of its space, power and air-conditioning needs by migrating to virtual servers.

The team also chose to implement Dell’s EqualLogic storage arrays to help keep track of the ever-growing amounts of data and information coming through its districts. IT had being using another solution, but that was costly to maintain and would be even more cost-prohibitive to upgrade, according to Evans.

“Dell brought the EqualLogic solution to our attention, and we started with a couple of small arrays to see if they met our needs,” he says. It “has given us a lot of flexibility for carving up the SAN [storage area network] array into different servers, the ability to replicate data and things of that nature.”

Upgrading Firewalls and Switches

In addition, the SBCSS had older firewalls and switches in need of upgrading, particularly as schools began ramping up for Common Core standards and the use of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing, a set of computer-adaptive tests used to assess students on their knowledge of Common Core standards. Also, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) roll-outs at some of the county’s 33 school districts showed signs of consuming additional bandwidth as well.

The IT organization replaced more than six point products with Dell’s SuperMassive E10800 firewalls, which helped to free up bandwidth bottlenecks, while improving the ability to detect and block threats early on. A SonicWALL content filtering solution provided centralization, while Dell’s 10+ GBE networking solution helped increase capacity from a 1GB pipeline to a 10GB solution.

 “Part of the equation is that the districts are starting to increase their capacity,” Evans says. The increased capacity provides the school districts with better connectivity, which allows teachers and students to collaborate more easily with one another and across the school district. It also enables them to roll out specific initiatives, such as Chromebook solutions.

The county also deployed Dell’s KACE Systems Management Applications to build out endpoint security and help with remote systems management, help desk automation and OS deployment. The apps enabled the IT team to reduce its OS migration time from Windows XP to Windows 7 on a single machine to an hour or less—down from 24 hours-plus previously.

The increased functionality available through these new solutions has been essential for various reasons. First, the SBCCS is in the middle of four significant initiatives, including the continued expansion of Common Core standards, as well as a new funding model, and these solutions help support them.

Second, the county covers a geographic area of 22,000 square miles, making it the largest county in the United States. For that reason, it’s important to have efficient holistic, end-to-end solutions in place.

Evans is confident that these technology solutions have given the SBCSS the ability to enhance, modify and readily prepare for needed changes in the future. And that’s imperative, he adds, as the districts “surprise us with new endeavors that we may or may not know about.”