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Sun 18 May 2008 04:00 AM

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Classroom connections

Ajman University of Science and Technology is the latest institute to upgrade its network to support the raft of educational applications that universities are expected to supply these days. ACN reports.

Ajman University of Science and Technology is the latest institute to upgrade its network to support the raft of educational applications that universities are expected to supply these days. ACN reports.

Nowadays, it's not enough for universities to have tables, chairs and a desktop PC lab - they need a full network infrastructure with high bandwidth and reliability to support applications and services such as e-learning and video conferencing.

Ajman University of Science and Technology (AUST) is one of the many regional universities that have found that their existing infrastructure is no longer enough for the educational tools they wish to offer to their students.

Most applications nowadays depend on the infrastructure, so having a strong, powerful infrastructure with enough bandwidth will help us to utilise all our resources in a better way

"Our existing IT was an old infrastructure because our old main campus was established back in 1988. So the whole idea behind the project was to update this," says Raghad Ali Koussah, IT manager at the university.

Koussah explains that quality of education is very important at AUST, so the existing network needed to be upgraded to give the students the best educational tools.

"The university encourages students to work closely with professors to learn from each other and to make full use of the technology, achieving in this way a broad and rounded learning experience.

The existing communications infrastructure did not support this vision and we also wanted to guarantee availability of critical services such as e-learning and video streaming but our hub-based network had neither the speed nor the capacity to meet these requirements," he says.

AUST wanted to create a network which was highly resilient and reliable and would deliver the necessary bandwidth across the university's two campuses."It was all driven by our faculty and management plans for launching the new services, and the available budgets. We installed a 1Gbit/s network, whereas our old network was just 100Mbit/s and even on some parts 10Mbit/s," Koussah explains.

The project took place over two years, with the first campus completed in 2006 followed by the second in 2007. The second campus was newly built, giving AUST the opportunity to take the IT infrastructure into consideration when designing the physical structure.

For the upgrade, the university was looking for a vendor that would provide it with resilient, reliable and secure technology.

"The TCO was a key decision factor in choosing Nortel. In addition to this, we had previous experience with switches and routers from Nortel which were installed in our old campus and we were very satisfied with them," says Koussah.

Nortel's 8600 switches are at the core of the network in the Ajman campus. According to Nortel, the 8600's switch clustering capability means, in the event of a network outage, the switches can re-route affected sessions to protect network uptime.

So far, the network has lived up to the university's expectations, according to Koussah: "The students and faculty members benefit from the new infrastructure, which creates a highly productive environment, and this proved as well to attract many new students and enhance the way we conduct special projects and collaboration sessions."

Although improving educational tools offered at AUST was the main driver for the new network, back office administration and services for staff are also being enhanced, according to Koussah.

"Our ERP solution has also been improved. We can supply more services to staff and expand the solution by adding more software," he says."We are creating more portals, available to different departments and faculty members on our infrastructure. The IT department has its own portal, for example, which staff can access," he adds.

Security was another important factor for AUST, which is why it implemented multiple security technologies from Nortel, including a VPN router, Contivity firewall and Nortel's Threat Protection System.

The network has also allowed the university to offer the applications it wanted for its students, as well as supporting existing services.

"The new infrastructure has helped us with e-learning and video conferencing as well because video conferencing requires good bandwidth to function properly.

Also, most of our services depend on the network infrastructure, such as email and file sharing; most applications nowadays depend somehow on the infrastructure, so having a strong, powerful infrastructure with enough bandwidth will help us to utilise all our resources in a better way," Koussah says.

E-learning has allowed the university to offer more of its courses online, while video conferencing has been a bridge between the two campuses in Ajman and Fujairah.

Events and presentations are often held in the large Sheikh Zayed Hall, at Ajman campus, which can then be transmitted to students in Fujairah via video conferencing.

"At the old campus our services were limited. Increasing the number of services we offered was not possible with the old infrastructure. Now we are able to deploy new services to staff and students using our own network," Koussah concludes.

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