August 28, 2013

Back to School with Extreme Networks

With the coming of fall comes a number of good things – the end of heatwaves, football season and of course back to school. Extreme Networks has long been a key partner to education, with over 700 educational institutions running our gear. We are deeply honored by this as each and every one of those educational institutions has one of the most demanding group of customers imaginable – students.

BYOD is a challenge anywhere, but in schools it is a particular challenge. There are a couple reasons for this. One is that students tend to be hyperconnected. They may have multiple devices – smartphone, tablet, laptop and perhaps even some gaming devices. Many of those devices will be running some sort of social media applications/clients, many of which feature push notification and thus require constant data connections. Even if a single application or device is just sipping bandwidth thru a thin straw, the aggregate load of so many applications across so many devices can quickly bring a network to its knees.

Students and education also bring another unique challenge not typically seen in traditional corporate environments. When classes end, many schools will see the majority of their users move from one room to another, which usually results in roaming across multiple access points and creating a great deal of activity as the network copes with establishing new connections for every widget in every pocket of every student. The time between classes also tends to generate spikes in activity as well. Sure, students will sneak in some activity during class, but lunch, breaks between classes and the times right before and after school all tend to generate bursty activity.

Another challenge is the facilities themselves. Modern office facilities will often have relatively open layouts. Many filled with cubes, but relatively open from an RF perspective. School buildings, at least in the US, often feature steel girder construction and enclosed classrooms. Sounds a lot like a faraday cage, not the easiest place in the world to deploy wireless services.

So, how does Extreme help build better networks for education? Well, we do it in much the same way we build better networks for the enterprise and data center – we start with solid hardware designed by the best engineers in the industry around the best possible merchant silicon. While others may use some of the same merchant silicon, the overall products are quite different – Macbook Airs and Chromebooks all use x86 silicon, but they are very different. We also try to reduce power consumption where we can, not just because it saves money, but also because it is the right thing to do. We have more details on this in the whitepaper, Delivering a Greener Campus.

Another thing we do different that really is special is ExtremeXOS, the network operating system that powers every Extreme switch from the Summit X430 to our flagship BlackDiamond X8. Built on a Linux core, XOS is robust, modular and designed from the ground up to be easy to use. Many others claim a single OS across their product lines, but the reality is often different. Different versions, different trains of code, different branches.

Our wireless architecture is also different and better. We have separated the control and data planes, removing controller backhaul bottlenecks that so often plague other wireless architectures. With big chunks of the user population moving to different access points after every class, this is important.

Finally, we deploy access points that make network deployments faster and easier. One example is the high performance yet compact Altitude 4511 Snap In access point. With a unique form factor that allows the access point to literally snap into place when deployed in place of a standard Ethernet puck, installing an Altitude 4511 can literally be done in a couple minutes with little more than a screwdriver.

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Extreme Marketing Team

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