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With Extreme Fabric, Extreme Partner, STEPCG, Automated the Deployment of a Next-generation K-12 Network Four-times Faster

Anu Gade Senior Director, Product Management Published 18 Jan 2022

StepCG, an Extreme Partner, leveraged Extreme Fabric Connect and the implicit automation capabilities of Fabric Connect to deploy a K-12 network consisting of 242 switches (30 core and 212 edge) across 23 locations in less than a week. This was four times (4x) faster than what it took for their client’s previous deployment with an alternative network provider. Recent innovations in Extreme Fabric including port auto-sense capability allowed STEPCG to easily replace the previous network with an end-to-end Extreme Fabric with minimal effort – including no staging and no manual configuration.

“This is unheard of speed for us,” Daniel Smith, Solution Architect

The school district had previously deployed a competitive fabric switch distribution/core/edge network.  When it was time for refresh, they evaluated Extreme’s Fabric Connect solution and found it to be the clear winner due to its simplicity of deployment and operations while also meeting their compliance needs through the hyper-segmentation capabilities.

The school district’s requirements for the solution were the following:

  • Easy to deploy: no deep technical expertise was required
  • Easy to operate: adds/moves/changes should be easy, minimizing change windows
  • Allow segmentation of their network into distinct secure groups for compliance (IoT devices, video surveillance cameras, users, servers, printers etc.)
  • Add new network services without requiring changes to distribution/core switches
  • Scale across small to large networks

Typically deploying many edge switches is very time consuming. Labeling ports for different types of devices (such as IoT devices, wireless access points, video surveillance cameras, users, servers and printers) requires manual configuration of switch ports and doesn’t facilitate adds/moves/changes.  Also, for customers that don’t have a policy server to enforce user/device access policies (such as 802.1x, MAC authentication), it’s important the solution still provides automation capabilities that alleviate manual configuration.

Fabric Connect cuts down deployment time while also protecting the network against security threats such as rogue switches in the network.  Fabric Connect recently introduced Port Auto-Sense which detects when a device is plugged into a port and automatically configures that port.  Device type-based port configuration can be defined and managed from ExtremeCloud IQ Site-Engine, a centralized on-premises solution for managing both Extreme devices & 3rd party devices.  Edge Switch Global Settings (such as voice VLAN, data VLAN, wireless access point VLANs, camera VLAN etc.) can be applied to Edge switches using ExtremeCloud IQ-Site Engine or using CLI/Scripts.  When the end device is disconnected from the network, port configuration reverts to a default state with an important security benefit by removing configuration from inactive ports.

With Port Auto-Sense capability:

  • Fabric links get established automatically
  • Fabric Attach capable devices are onboarded automatically
  • Extreme Wireless Access Points are detected & SSID-VLAN bindings are shared with network.
  • IP phones are onboarded and applied to the voice segment automatically
  • When an end-user device is connected to an Auto-Sense port, the device gets assigned to a predefined network segment (if authentication is not enabled). If authentication is enabled on Auto-Sense Port, switch authenticates the user and provides the correct binding to a predefined subnet based on Policy Server (such as Extreme Control)

Using Extreme, enterprises can choose to deploy a traditional Layer2/Layer 3 network design with stacking. Alternatively, they can deploy Fabric Connect from campus distribution/core to the campus edge for a highly automated rollout to deliver capital and operational cost savings. In addition, Fabric Connect provides hyper-segmentation for separating various networks into distinct secure groups for compliance. Unlike other Fabric solutions, clients can also extend the Fabric via Fabric Attach to Wireless Access Points for consistent user/device policies.

K-12 Network Refresh

When it was time for refresh, three technicians managed the physical installation of switches while the STEP CG network engineer collaborated with school district network engineer for this deployment.

Using the new Port Auto-Sense capabilities, the installation went from unboxing switches on Monday morning to a fully refreshed edge and core by Friday night without requiring any pre-configuration.  The port auto-sense capability was the main factor contributing to the 4x accelerated network install.

Daniel Smith, Solution Architect at STEPGC said, “This is unheard of speed for us. The ability to simply unbox gear and load them in vehicles without having to first identify, asset tag, group, preconfigure, and keep in a particular physical order all the way until install, GREATLY increased our deployment rate. Not only did they not need deep expertise in networking, but they didn’t even need to configure uplinks or downlinks for Fabric.”

Most importantly, Mr. Smith said, “Once global voice and data VLANs are configured on the switch, auto-sense allowed ports to be automatically configured based on the device type connected to the port.  For computer lab switches (with 2 uplinks), they didn’t have to designate uplink ports or have special configuration.  Fabric Connect ensured no network loops occur with 2 uplinks.”

In summary, STEPCG leveraged Extreme’s Fabric Connect technology to replace a competitors K-12 network with end-to-end Extreme devices in unprecedented time.

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