K-12 Schools

Infrastructure move to datacentre makes speed the new normal at Sydney school

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PLC school

Scalable AARNet connectivity has opened the door to ultra-fast teaching and learning experiences and highly available infrastructure at Presbyterian Ladies’ College Sydney and Armidale (PLC).

It took CIO David Savill under a year to radically overhaul PLC’s infrastructure, moving all the school’s compute and storage to the datacentre and working with AARNet to architect and implement diverse connectivity across metropolitan Sydney.

As well as significantly reducing the school’s exposure to risk by introducing data replication and disaster recovery, the solution has ushered in the ultra-fast, reliable internet staff and students can rely on for live access to online teaching and learning resources.

“Now, we’ve moved everything we do to the cloud and it’s all accessed live; we don’t have local storage. Online resources are our extended classroom, it’s integrated into everything we do. Which means – the internet can’t go down – ever,” Savill said.

Evolving plans

Increasing numbers of Australian schools are moving their infrastructure out of their campus for reasons of efficiency, quality and risk-mitigation. Despite being one of the forerunners, Savill’s original plan was simply to upgrade the school’s existing 500Mbps internet connection.

“When I arrived at the school in 2016, people complained that the internet was slow. Videos in the classroom loaded with a lot of lag, and things like videoconferencing weren’t reliable; sometimes it worked well but other times not.”

There was also a lot of aging equipment that was effortful and expensive to maintain and required constant fire-fighting.

Thinking a wholesale move to the datacentre would be cost prohibitive — but with a view to moving infrastructure further down the track — Savill initially turned to AARNet and commercial providers to obtain costs for a diverse 1G connection to the internet.

But upon learning how scalable a connection from AARNet would be, Savill formulated the plan that would open the door to moving all infrastructure to the datacentre for both PLC Sydney and Armidale.

“Our 10G connection from AARNet cost just a small amount more than 1G; when I realised this, I was blown away by how we could scale, and it opened up so many possibilities.”

Cloud-first strategy

The result was a new strategy putting cloud-first.

PLC would create one network across the two schools in Sydney and Armidale and move all its compute and storage for both schools to the SY4 Equinix datacentre in Sydney’s south, reducing power, UPS and cooling costs.

SY4 also provided PLC with a quick and easy gateway to all the public cloud providers as well as quality rackspace for its own infrastructure. The school’s exposure to risk would be significantly reduced by data replication in three locations, as well as introduction of a full disaster recovery environment for the first time.

At this point, Savill intended to source a second internet connection from a commercial provider, but frustrations with an inability of multiple providers to confirm carrier redundancy led him back to AARNet, who could guarantee contractually that the two fibres wouldn’t cross.

Network architecture

Next, the network design needed some serious brainstorming – not least because it involved laying new dark fibre in metropolitan Sydney.

Savill and his team worked with AARNet to architect a solution involving building a 1.7km tail to the school, designing connectivity to the Equinix datacentre, and building dark fibre around the east of Sydney to provide complete diversity.

Savill says that there’s no way they could have done it by themselves, and advises that other schools involve the expertise of AARNet.

“We tried to architect a bit of it ourselves and got thrown around a bit by the carriers.

“The people you do the work with at AARNet are very, very smart. They designed a robust solution quickly; I knew it was possible but I couldn’t have directed it. The value-add with AARNet is a lot more than with a commercial provider.”

Reaping the rewards

For Savill, the benefits of the new solution are clear. Both schools are now on the one network and are able to take advantages of economies of scale.

User data is secure, replicated in real-time and with all systems both backed up. Workloads can be moved between sites with little or no downtime allowing the school to mitigate significant events.

The school has avoided power and cooling infrastructure upgrade costs, as well as time spent managing in-house servers. It also provides quick and cheap connectivity to all of the major public cloud providers and other networks we might want to link into.

Crucially, fast and reliable connections mean the school’s users can rely on live access to services for teaching and learning.

“Connectivity is now as fast as our internal network. Speed is the new normal and there’s a lot more confidence in the classroom to deliver things live.

“We’re really happy; it just works. I don’t think I could have done this without AARNet, and I don’t think I could have had this experience with any other telco.”


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