Network planning can be easier you think

septembre 23, 2016

Abilene Christian University (ACU), is a medium-size, private, selective, residential university with an enrollment of 4,900 students and supported by 850 faculty and staff to create a dynamic and technology-rich learning environment.

Abilene Christian University (ACU), is a medium-size, private, selective, residential university with an enrollment of 4,900 students and supported by 850 faculty and staff to create a dynamic and technology-rich learning environment. With 8500 network ports distributed across 45 buildings and 100 IT closets, keeping pace with software releases, licenses, and support dates can be challenging.

How do you simplify a time consuming, tedious task?

If you could dramatically reduce the amount of time required to manage and maintain your networking environment, wouldn’t you take advantage of the opportunity?

When ALE approached ACU about being a beta site for their new ProActive Lifecycle Management (PALM) cloud based service application we eagerly accepted this offer. PALM leverages OmniVista 2500 NMS (“OV2500”) to address these types of challenges.

Periodically, throughout the year, ACU needs to assess the quantity of various network switch models and components that provide network connectivity for the campus.  Often this activity is associated with planning software updates, support renewal, and equipment replacement.  To ensure we have the latest information, we scroll through multiple views on the OV2500 management console.  Sometimes we have to log directly into the switches, or worse yet, visit individual closets and physically connect into the switch.  All this information is then extraneously ported into a spreadsheet, to facilitate the analysis procedure.  To say the process is painful, convoluted, and time-consuming is being kind.

ALE’s pre-sales engineer recognized a tremendous opportunity where we could collaborate on what eventually became PALM – a tool that not only takes a full inventory, but also identifies support status by comparing it to ALE’s database.

While we employ various tools to collect similar data, these typically require some tweaking or translating. PALM actually lets ACU network administrators say, “I want to look at OmniSwitch 6860s or 6900s.” With PALM,  there’s a single screen that aggregates the information as opposed to looking at multiple files, in different formats and trying to make a connection.

For general planning, support, or replacements, it has been very helpful.  Since ACU began using PALM, it has reduced time spent running through the process by a third.

Managing a large, diverse enterprise infrastructure

There are specific challenges associated with managing an enterprise infrastructure.  The opportunity to work with a  manufacturer to better handle upgrades, maintenance, and support tasks is definitely a win. Keeping current on the “latest and greatest” code and release updates is particularly challenging. PALM provides information on the latest code available and compares it with what is currently running.

Benefits besides saving time – Life cycle visibility

Besides saving time on knowing the status of the network’s equipment and support, PALM also provides a web-based mapping of devices and their status in terms of end-of-sale, end-of-life, and end-of-support while also providing application visibility. Finding end-of-life or end-of-sales information on switches can be a challenge, and often requires  a visit to the support website.

PALM provides the ability to drill deeper into subassemblies like transceivers and more. Getting access to information, such as serial numbers, code versions, etc., makes an administrator’s life easier.

Say goodbye to old style – sales-generated roadmaps

Before PALM, ACU was reliant on a sales engineer and a salesperson to provide product roadmaps. On several occasions, these presentations resulted in the discovery that a switch we were operating had gone end of support without our knowledge.  Such occurrences hinders the ability to proactively budget and plan for equipment change outs. 

PALM provides tools and views which enable us, the administrators to plan for our capital deployment and investment in advance. ACU employs a three to five year horizon when it comes to planning dollars to be spent. By eliminating that “caught off guard” feeling associated with end of life or support discoveries, roadmap sessions transform from anxious “what else are we unaware of” to encouraging experiences where everyone is allowed to think through possibilities.

Track licenses

PALM has been instrumental in ACU’s planning process – however one of the other pieces that is useful is license tracking. As ACU explores the expansion of the Shortest Path Bridging (SPB) protocol, this feature requires specific licensing.  With PALM, we can identify which equipment has the appropriate licenses, and which need licenses.

As opposed to auditing the switches individually or pulling reports from OV2500, PALM actually provides dynamically updated information in easily digestible views.

Full visibility

Now that this process is automated, visibility into network switches has been greatly enhanced. Addressing equipment failures or initiating support requests has benefited from PALM.  Even the information required to process an RMA is now readily available.

Ordering new equipment

It is possible to order equipment directly through PALM. ACU’s preference is to maintain a personal touch with a salesperson , as they deliver more value than simply order fulfillment. However, it could be useful for those single quantity orders.

There are many more features which weren’t covered in this blog. If you want more insight on PALM, you can read more on it here or download the datasheet.

In the meantime, check your own network to see what might make your planning chores easier. Maybe it’s time to contact your equipment supplier to see what tools they have to offer you to make this less of a burden while creating a better network. 


Arthur Brant

Dir. Enterprise Infrastructure, Abilene Christian University - aka ALE Customer Advocate

Director of Enterprise Infrastructure at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas.

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