Rugby School

Aruba switches future-proof network for one of the UK’s oldest independent schools

Rugby School is one of the oldest independent schools in the UK, founded in 1567. But the school is far from medieval. It is one of the country’s most modern, and most connected schools. The site is ringed by 15km of OM1 fibre.

“There are diverse network links between buildings and two data centres on site,” says IT director, Andrew Waples. “We have full resiliency to cope with any eventuality.”

Content-rich classrooms and cloud-based access to teaching

Education, continues Waples, is changing fast. Students and teachers expect content-rich classroom environments, with the means to stream, share and interact with content. Likewise, students want to be able to pick up their studies later in the evening, off a laptop; teachers will post reports and feedback online, on cloud-based platforms.

Naturally, the number of devices connecting the network has multiplied in recent years, from 2,000 in 2015 to more than 7,000 in 2018.

“Many students arrive with a phone, laptop, tablet, Xbox and wearable tech,” says Waples. “It may be that this number consolidates in the future but the need for bandwidth won’t fall and the range of demands will be more complex. The network needs to be robust. We need bandwidth and we need resiliency.”

The bandwidth to support modern teaching

VLANing was a pain point, very hard to do on the old switches. With the Aruba architecture and tools, we’re saving 50-70% on manpower, configuring and automating VLANs. Andrew Waples, IT director, Rugby School

“The previous network switching had grown unfit for purpose,” Waples says. If the School was to accommodate bandwidth expansion, and deliver a consistent service to users, it needed to upgrade network switches.

The solution lies with Aruba. Rugby School has chosen to refresh its previous generation HPE Campus core with Aruba 8400 switches. “The previous core had only eight 10Gb ports, the 8400s come with 32 ports per card. The expandability is in a different league,” Waples explains. “We can rip and replace the old 100Mb network and go straight to 10Gb, and in the future we can upgrade to 40Gb and beyond.”

At Rugby School, they have also deployed stacks of Aruba 2930F series switches to modernise and optimise the edge network which was based on switches from another vendor. The stacking capability of the Aruba 2930F switches allows for a higher resiliency but also reduced number of IP addresses for management and configuration. Each stack of switches is addressed by a single IP address. The new architecture has also brought them simpler and unified configuration and management across its entire network employing the Aruba AirWave Network Management platform.

Fit-for-purpose today, ready for tomorrow

Waples comments on this future-proofing, but says the expectation is that this solution will meet the School’s requirements for the next five years. “The objective was to be fit for purpose today, and to avoid another rip-and-replace in two years’ time. The modular design of the Aruba 8400 means we can pop in a new module as technology evolves.”

He says other vendors were considered, some were cheaper than Aruba: “But when you looked at the support and backup, nothing came close to Aruba. I think any IT director who buys something without backup couldn’t sleep well at night. If something goes wrong, we know we have someone on the end of the phone who can talk us through a solution or send a replacement.”

Fully programmable OS with carrier-grade hardware performance

Rugby School is one of the first UK customers to take the Aruba 8400 Switch Series. Waples admits being early is a risk, but a calculated one: “We did a balanced score card and Aruba came top. Where there were risks of failure, we mitigated for them.”

The Aruba 8400 series combines a modern, fully programmable OS with carrier-grade hardware performance. It incorporates the industry-first Network Analytics Engine to monitor and troubleshoot network, system, application and security related issues easily.

By enabling faster automation and network insights, the operating system reduces the time spent on manual tasks and addresses current and future demands driven by mobility and IoT. IoT will be a growing trend, with the need for adding more, diverse devices to the network. The School also has over 40 CCTV cameras which require their own VLAN. Adding new devices, cameras and configuring network access will be a much simpler and more secure task now.

“We find it particularly useful for VLANing,” says Waples. “That was a pain point, very hard to do on the old switches. With the Aruba architecture and tools, we’re saving 50-70% on manpower, configuring and automating VLANs.”

Less time spent on manual tasks is more time for service innovation.

Clearer visibility, more effective management

Waples highlights the ease of use of the Aruba 8400 interface. “It is an excellent UI, requiring very little initial training. You can automate, script and test scenarios before go-live.”

Network end-users, he admits, are unlikely to have noticed any difference. “We only get a call when something goes wrong. Previously, we may have been running at 70-80% capacity between buildings; now, the bandwidth means we’re at 15-20%. We have better visibility, and better network management.”

The bandwidth headroom comfortably accommodates the School’s needs. Rugby School switched to Office 365 in 2016, it regularly streams live rugby events, uses the web-based Firefly for its virtual learning environment, and a 3CX IP phone network. “Everyone is connected to everything, all of the time,” points out Waples.

“My biggest worry was when the students logged on to Netflix in the evening. Come 9pm, you’d better be sure you had enough bandwidth for 700 kids to stream Game of Thrones.”