California’s Orange County and City of Orange Schools Give High Grades to OmniCenter

ORGANIZATION

  • Orange (CA) Unified School District

INDUSTRY

  • Public school system

LOCATIONS 

  • 40 schools, plus administrative sites
  • Connected to Orange County Department of Education
  • Connections to sites in other cities and universities, as well as State of California Department of Education

APPLICATIONS 

  • Monitoring status of hardware and software applications throughout the enterprise
  • Connectivity of thousands of relatively unknown computing devices on as-needed basis
  • Maintenance of public-facing website, providing high availability
  • Complex network system connecting multiple sites to multiple domains

NETREO PRODUCTS 

  • OmniCenter® Enterprise™
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“OmniCenter provides a rock-solid foundation for our network operations center. Without it, we would not be able to provide the high level of support that we do.”
Tam Nguyen, Orange Unified School District

PROTECTING A LARGE-SCALE OPERATION

Technology departments set standards for hardware and software that employees follow to support the IT infrastructure. What happens when an organization has more than 30,000 users who connect any devices and software they want into the network? That was the challenge facing the Orange Unified School District (OUSD) in the city of Orange, CA.

“Thousands of students connect to our network with their own smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers,” explained Tam Nguyen, Director of Information Technology for OUSD. “They each have a user name and password starting in kindergarten.”

The district also maintains IT support for all of its staff members.

“Every employee also has at least one device,” Nguyen said. “We don’t provide smartphones, but staff members and teachers have a desktop or laptop computer, or both, so usually there are multiple devices per person.”

“We have 42 sites in the district, and a lot of customers, including 33,000 students and staff members, plus parents,” Nguyen noted. “Our infrastructure is fairly large, with 600 switches and 1,700 wireless access points. If you compared our network to private industry, we would be a very large enterprise.”

Orange Unified School District is just one of 28 local school districts overseen by the Orange County Department of Education. With a population of more than three million, Orange County is the third most populous county in California, spread over 948 square miles.

COMPLEX, INTERCONNECTED NETWORKS

Prior to OmniCenter, OUSD used a network monitoring tool that proved to be too expensive to justify its use. They could afford to monitor only 40 to 50 pieces of equipment because the pricing for each device was so high. The district then opted for an open-source, “free” software tool, which could potentially help monitor every switch, but required extensive customization beyond the technology department’s ability to support. Acknowledging a need for something better, Nguyen began looking for other options. The County’s Department of Education had previously implemented solutions from Netreo for infrastructure monitoring, and recommended OmniCenter to the school district.

OUSD now uses OmniCenter to monitor switches throughout the district. OUSD is comprised of 40 schools, plus administrative buildings, and maintenance, operations, and transportation sites. In all, they have 310 network cabinets, 120 virtual servers, and 1,700 wireless access points, all monitored by OmniCenter.

The district hosts email, a financial accounting system, Internet connectivity, a student information system, and telephone infrastructure over Cisco VoIP from its data center. It also has an outward-facing public website monitored by OmniCenter.

“I’m looking for the responsiveness of the applications we’re providing – not just externally, but internally,” Nguyen said. “In addition to checking whether the system is up or down, OmniCenter has the ability to see if a certain application is slow, or if there is high bandwidth utilization or low network responsiveness. This is all beneficial information, since it is imperative for us to provide stable and consistent network services. OmniCenter definitely helps us achieve that objective.”

Because the Orange Unified School District and the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE) are both using OmniCenter, the 10-gigabit communication circuit that connects the school district to the County Department of Education is monitored by both offices, using OmniCenter.

“OmniCenter resides locally on our network and separately at OCDE,” Nguyen explained. “The two systems work together seamlessly to provide layered monitoring, which gives us another level of confidence.”

Most of the district’s IT infrastructure is geared toward its internal systems. However, it also supports the external-facing website, used by students and parents.

“We get emails or calls into our Help Desk when the services are not available,” Nguyen said. “One of our most crucial requirements is keeping the phones up for 911 access, or in the case of a disaster or other emergency, to provide a communication link for parents, because they’re going to be concerned. During an emergency, the principal can use the ‘all-call’ feature to notify everyone on campus. That’s all IP and network-based, so it’s essential that the network is always up and running.”

EFFICIENCY AND SIMPLICITY

OUSD has an IT staff of 34, four of whom are responsible for network systems. Other IT staff members provide front-line support at the school sites, where they do hands-on troubleshooting and training. When they are not doing that, they work on projects and deployment, configuration, and a variety of other support tasks. Thanks to OmniCenter, the four network engineers are able to keep up with the workload because of Netreo’s automated monitoring capabilities.

OmniCenter allows OUSD to be more proactive about outages, according to Nguyen.

“It informs us when there is excessive CPU utilization, not enough free memory on switches, or if an application is not running correctly. Let’s say a switch has been misbehaving intermittently. OmniCenter gives us indicators that something is about to go wrong before we lose the switch. That allows us to be a lot more proactive. It would be impossible to monitor the sheer number of network devices and access points we have without a robust monitoring solution.”

Installation of OmniCenter was fast and simple for Nguyen’s group. “We had a lot of components up and running in short order,” he said. “The process took only two weeks to get everything in and up. That’s really quick.”

The district set up OmniCenter as a virtual installation in a collaborative effort with Netreo.

“As implementations go, this one was a dream,” Nguyen said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Here you go. Here are the instructions,’ and then you’re on your own. Netreo has been extremely responsive and has put a lot of support hours into us to make sure that we’re running correctly, not just running.”

MORE EFFECTIVE SOLUTION

Another area where Netreo proved useful was monitoring the response time of popular websites and applications. For instance, Nguyen’s group can now monitor Google or Haiku, a learning management system that instructors and students use, to see if one is slower to respond to inquiries than the other. The IT shop is now able to say definitively that it is not the network that is slow to respond, but rather a particular application.

“We’re rebuilding our network operations center, and OmniCenter is the foundation of that initiative,” Nguyen said. “Without Netreo, we wouldn’t be able to provide the high level of support that we do.”

Previously, OUSD’s data center kept crashing in different ways. One occurrence was a districtwide loss of phone systems. The failure was eventually traced to the legacy phone system, which has since been replaced. With OmniCenter, the monitoring systems are now in place that can see if specific services fail, or responsiveness goes down. If a similar problem occurred now, Netreo can provide a detailed record of the systems starting to fail and bring this to the attention of the IT staff in time to respond proactively.

“Another issue we had was monitoring our backups and our email servers,” Nguyen added. “We experienced a backup failure, and the Exchange transaction log databases kept building. Disk space allocated to logging email activity was chewed up quickly, a crucial hard drive locked up, and we had some data loss. We now leverage OmniCenter to monitor and warn us before developments escalate to that point. Other products may be able to do that, but will your staff ever get to the point where they have that set up? With OmniCenter, it’s automated.”

“OmniCenter is the only application that has everything we need in a single pane of glass.”
Tam Nguyen, Orange Unified School District

SNAPSHOT: ORANGE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

  • Public school district serving the city of Orange, CA
  • Over 3,000 employees, including teachers and support staff
  • Serves more than 30,000 students from kindergarten through grade 12, plus parents and guardians
  • Physical plant includes 40 schools in the district, plus administration buildings
  • IT staff of 34, including four network technicians

CORE IT REQUIREMENTS AND RESOURCES AT OUSD

  • Support for internal software applications, such as student, financial, instructional, telecommunications, Internet, email, directory and authentication systems, and grading tools
  • Ability to monitor and support day-to-day connectivity for well over 33,000 users, with devices ranging from smartphones to tablets to computers
  • Complex network infrastructure with servers, routers, switches, and wireless access points connecting to a network core
  • Cisco VoIP telephone system

OMNICENTER WAS THE CLEAR CHOICE

While the Orange County Department of Education recommended OmniCenter to OUSD, Nguyen’s team still conducted their own detailed evaluation, comparing four popular network monitoring applications. After the completion of a proof of concept for each, OmniCenter came out on top. One of the most significant advantages OUSD found was Netreo’s support for a sustainable process to respond to issues, which they did not see in other products.

“Other vendors had too much or too little going on, and OmniCenter proved to have the best overall cost and functionality value and the best organization of information,” Nguyen said. “Other vendors had the functionality, but it was spread across different areas or containers. They didn’t seem as thoroughly integrated, but with OmniCenter, everything is fully integrated and working together.”

Two other notable strengths of OmniCenter for OUSD have been the ease in which the data is read, and how simply the data is presented.

“Having OmniCenter at the foundation of everything allowed us to build a process that is very effective, compared to other tools. The others we evaluated were either too expensive, didn’t have the extensive feature set we wanted, or had so much information that you couldn’t do anything with it,” he added.

OUSD’s Network Operations Center is set up with two large monitors displaying all of the information. On one screen is a map of the network with green, yellow, and red dots indicating problem areas. The other screen shows current issues being worked on. Netreo also provides a service for building out and mapping new devices when they come online.

“That’s where our work with Netreo has felt like a partnership,” Nguyen said. “When we have questions or issues to resolve, we can reach out to Netreo’s support people, and they help us find a solution, and build it out side-by-side with us. The software is very capable, but Netreo goes above and beyond with their excellent customer service.”

OMNICENTER BENEFITS TO OUSD

  • Monitor 310 network cabinets, 120 virtual servers, and 1,700 wireless access points
  • Protect the health of physical infrastructure, servers, database management, web applications, connectivity of
  • over 30,000 heterogeneous devices to networks, connectivity to remote sites, email, and other systems
  • Proactive response to emerging problems and root-cause analyses for prevention of performance problems
  • Support increased daily productivity for members of the IT staff
  • Ongoing network monitoring