The Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos (Unisinos) is a private Jesuit university of higher education supported by the Antônio Vieira Association. It integrates a network of 200 schools with 2.2 million students worldwide. According to the General Course Index of 2014, published by the Ministry of Education and Culture in Brazil, it is the second best private university in the country, with the best undergraduate course in this category. With headquarters in São Leopoldo, the institution is home to the largest computer science hub in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where more than 60 companies from 10 countries hold laboratories.
In addition to São Leopoldo, Unisinos recently launched a campus of 55 thousand square meters in Porto Alegre, the state capital, and maintains e-learning agreements in other cities of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná and São Paulo, gathering 22 institutions throughout the country with 3,500 employees, it serves 30,000 students.
Looking for Academic Excellence
Being strongly present in the south of Brazil, Unisinos prides itself on academic excellence. The institution’s long-term goal is to become a global benchmark in research, an activity more commonly performed in the country at public institutions. However, achieving that goal with an outdated network infrastructure was an impossible task.
“The network is the nervous system of any organization. At a university, even more,” assures the Unisinos IT manager, Marcos Knewitz. He argues that, “Besides the entire administrative area depending on the network, it is impossible for teachers and students of the institution to satisfactorily use the resources available without a good quality connection.” And that is exactly what was not occurring at Unisinos.
“In 2015, we had 47 times more data traffic than when the previous network was deployed in 2007. We lived in everyday life, therefore, all the difficulties that a network without any capacity could present in a large entity such as Unisinos occurred,” comments Knewitz.
Without hiding the frustration, Knewitz notes, “At 7:30 p.m., when classes begin, we no longer had a network. The students were coming in wanting to use some Wi-Fi and could not get access. The connected parking lot gates also did not work because the network failed with the excess of demand.”
In addition, other problems created by the lack of network capacity and bandwidth prevented the institution from progressing to the future. Momentary crashes across the data network were common, as well as slow wired and wireless connections to Moodle, the university’s virtual e-learning platform. Connectivity, disconnection, and blocking of video and audio streaming and a reduction of the quality of closed circuit TV were also common occurrences.
At the center of all these difficulties was the Unisinos IT team, whose daily, almost full-time task, was to try to reestablish the operation of the network, even if only momentarily. As a result of the IT team’s lack of time and the network’s infrastructure created a margin for innovation of almost zero, in addition to widespread user dissatisfaction.
Balancing the Network to Address Demand
With so many challenges to overcome, Unisinos and the IT team looked for a new network solution that would be capable of supporting the university’s demand, which grew every day from students and faculty bringing their own devices and from the implementation of new and innovative university services. To accomplish this, the institution compared several solutions available on the market, considering the convergence between the total cost of the solution over five years, the knowledge of the vendors, partners, and internal team, and Gartner’s evaluation.
After evaluating all the prerequisites, the architecture developed by Extreme Networks was the most balanced for Unisinos’ needs. Per the IT manager, Extreme’s project brought innovation and effectiveness to Unisinos. “The characteristics of our traffic are vertical and horizontal, and Extreme Networks was the one vendor that best demonstrated a balance to satisfactorily serve this architecture within our budget,” he adds.
The network designed by Extreme for Unisinos has physical and virtual control platforms of 6,000 wired network ports and more than 700 wireless access points that enhance the university’s ability to become a smart school by offering better services and innovation capabilities generated by reliable connectivity. Currently, the network reaches 13,000 simultaneous connections on the Wi-Fi network. The system also supports the ow of data generated by computer labs, a technology park with more than 60 companies, video conferencing, transmission of university radio via streaming, e-learning poles, and an Internet channel that reaches peaks at 1.5 gigabits per second frequently.
Innovation, Excellence and Effectivity
Since the deployment of the new network, Unisinos has left a state of total network exhaustion and entered one of reliability and greater capacity. The network is no longer impossible to use, the IT team and end users can now pursue many new opportunities. “We have been able to power a lot of direct services in the classroom. A professor, for example, is no longer prevented by the network from lecturing interactively and since material isn’t unavailable anymore they don’t need to compensate students’ grades for network challenges they don’t have control over.
This is a transformation in innovation and academic excellence, we have the potential to leverage other investments and possibilities,” Knewitz says.
The IT manager recalls that when the university was growing its portfolio of services it expanded geographically, something that was only possible through the deployment of the new network that had the capabilities to support the new increased traffic. “We now have a stable and reliable system, with delivery capabilities and we are free from any anomalies caused by a lack of network capacity. In addition, the IT team can work on other projects, build new technology solutions, and think about innovating programs. The new network unlocks unlimited possibilities for Unisinos, with much more control and visibility,” emphasizes Knewitz.
The Wi-Fi network is now open to classroom computers and for students’ personal devices. Another benefit for e-learning and regular classroom students is the ability to download from the Internet and access course content whenever they need it. For the professor, Unisinos enabled easy access to a mobile system with information about grades, services, and attendance sheets in the classroom included and available from anywhere on campus.
According to Knewitz, Extreme’s network solution has allowed safe access and sharing of employee, teacher, student, and visitor materials. “In 2016, we promoted more than 500 events between lectures, seminars, and high school visits. For all of this to work properly, we needed a high-capacity network and a high-performance connection,” notes Knewitz.
The Art of Being Invisible
Although it is hard to measure the success of deploying the new network, Unisinos IT staff believes that everyone is very satisfied. For Marco Knewitz, “if the implementation of the project was successful, we are not seen. So, I believe that our work was very well done.” While it is natural for IT to be overlooked when things are going well, the executive recalls that mobile service users highly praised the speed and stability of the network.
A long-time partner of Extreme Networks, TechDech Informática has more than 16 years providing intelligent IT solutions. Its nearly two decades of relationship with Unisinos, marketing and installing Extreme solutions, and providing technical support services throughout its life, was crucial to the achievement of this ambitious project.
According to Adão Bernardes, Systems Engineer at TechDech Informática, “The biggest challenge at Unisinos was to provide a secure, stable and fast structure for administrative and academic teams”. He explains that “when the project idea came along, we felt very comfortable developing it together with Extreme because we knew we would have all the technical and commercial support to meet our client’s needs, with whom we have a relationship of trust”.