Catawba College Strengthens Campus Network and Security with the Help of Extreme Networks


Established in 1851, Catawba College is a private, coeducational regional college located in Salisbury, North Carolina. Catawba’s primary goal is to provide over 1,300 students with an education rich in personal attention that blends the knowledge and competencies of liberal studies with career preparation.

Catawba offers over 70 academic fields of study and is ranked fourth among the best regional colleges in the South, according to the U.S. News & World Report. Additionally, as one of North Carolina’s Highest Return on Investment Colleges, Catawba has several top-ranking programs including theatre, psychology, sports management and environment and sustainability. Catawba also offers students the option to create their own, personalized major.

Catawba College sought to support its commitment to individualized, award-winning education with a renewed network infrastructure comprised of wired and wireless technology to deliver reliable connectivity. Not only is this an important component to driving a seamless classroom experience, but it also provides additional benefits to students and faculty, such as increased connectivity and safety around campus.

The Need for Secure and Simplified Technology

With a network infrastructure that failed to meet all of the security and reliability needs of the college, Catawba sought a complete network refresh of its existing wired and wireless infrastructure. While the student and faculty population was relatively small, the IT staff was comprised of two full time employee equivalents who were constantly challenged with splitting their time to manage all IT tasks and address network issues across 44 of the campus’ buildings.

With a lack of resources to address each network issue in a timely manner, Catawba’s IT staff experienced an increase in network downtime. This interrupted lectures, impacting the quality of learning for both students and professors. Additionally, the IT staff faced problems with virus propagation and other issues. This specifically affected its use of Blackboard, a service that creates a virtual classroom setting for on-campus and remote students.

With resources being stretched and delivery of classroom content hindered, Catawba knew it was time to deploy a new wired and wireless infrastructure and management system to better serve students and staff.

End-to-End Solution Wins Over Business

When deciding which vendor to work with, Extreme’s end- to-end solution won the bid over its competition, Alcatel. Working with multiple vendors in the past wasn’t easy for Catawba because they were challenged with keeping track of different contracts and services in addition to experiencing difficulties with interoperability. With Extreme, Catawba could simplify the deployment process by working with one vendor and one solution while also saving time and money. The Director of Systems and Networking, Rodney Rymer adds, “Our decision to standardize with Extreme on the wireless and wired network came down to the main driver: we wanted one dependable vendor. Extreme’s support team had been reliable and we knew one vendor solution would simplify the network, end multi- vendor disputes, and be more cost effective.”

From the start of the deployment, Extreme and Catawba worked side-by-side to install ExtremeSwitching, ExtremeWireless, ExtremeManagement and ExtremeControl. Additionally, Catawba purchased dozens of Extreme’s new Camera AP – a main driver being that the solution offered less cabling, more port space, and increased security. According to Rymer, “As soon as we saw that the 3916 Camera AP was available, we wanted to get our hands on it. Having the ability to accomplish multiple tasks through one consolidated device is a huge advantage for us, it reduces resource needs and saves the IT team’s time.”

Increasing Security across the Network and Campus

After the deployment, Catawba instantly experienced improved wireless connectivity and management – not to mention security. Extreme worked with Catawba to strategically place 350 access points around classrooms and other facilities in central locations. The access points increased wireless bandwidth, reducing disruptions in the classroom and increasing reliable connectivity.

ExtremeManagementTM has allowed the IT staff to manage the entire network from one centralized location. This instantly reduced time spent resolving network issues as it allowed Catawba to set up network policies on edge ports, providing an important barrier to keep viruses out of the network that previously interrupted connectivity. Additionally, ExtremeManagement increased Catawba’s control and visibility into what users and devices joined the network. This gave them the power to limit who had access to certain programs, therefore preventing future viruses.

The dual functionality of Extreme’s Camera APs gives Catawba more ports while reducing cabling and wiring costs, keeping maintenance costs at an all-time low. “We are focusing on deploying cameras in building entrances and exits as well as areas of campus where the college has assets such as the computer labs, server rooms, and IT closets to deter theft and know who is entering those areas and what they are doing there,” says Rymer.

Catawba can now monitor many entrances and exits of buildings and most computer labs, and continues to expand coverage as budget and time permit for added security. In addition, these cameras will assist into providing efficient bandwidth to support connectivity and security around campus. Rymer adds, “We will be able to figure out who is where at what time by combining the surveillance video from the cameras with our door access control records and other resources. These insights will allow us to better investigate any campus incident and deter future disputes.”

Building Relationships

Catawba College has taken the time to build relationships with vendors to ensure they will be present if an issue arises. Rymer took the same approach when evaluating network vendors because he knew multivendor arrangements could lead to disputes between vendors and waste the college’s time and resources. Over the two-decade relationship Catawba has built with Extreme, problems have been minimal. Rymer says, “In general I haven’t worked with a lot of vendors, but Extreme Networks’ sales and support staff has been great, they are knowledgeable and care about Catawba’s needs. They have been equal or better than any other vendor I’ve dealt with in the past.” In addition, Extreme Networks also helped connect Rymer and Catawba College with a reliable technology partner, Data Network Solutions. “DNS has been a huge asset to the college and have done a great job with the network. Our relationship has blossomed so well that we have increased our business with them and go to them for most of our technology infrastructure needs,” states Rymer.

Future Innovation

By deploying Extreme’s end-to-end solutions and leveraging the company’s industry expertise, Catawba College has been able to successfully improve network security and bandwidth for all students and devices across campus. Rymer says, “We can now contain problems quicker. Over the last 10 years with Extreme, we have seen improved network reliability. The greatest improvement has been gaining control over the network edge. Before upgrading the network, it took substantially longer to find out what the problem was and then actually contain it. With edge security features, we can contain problems quicker and minimize the exposure to customers and students.” Additionally, the integrated solutions allow the IT staff to work more effectively and focus efforts in assisting end users rather than servicing the network.

Now with solid connectivity, the team can focus on deploying more innovative solutions and other applications to foster productive learning.

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