When we go to the movies to watch the new Disney’s blockbuster or enjoy some neatly edited Taylor Swift’s music videos on YouTube, we tend to focus on the stars. But perhaps the real heroes are the supporting talents – graphic artists, operators, sound engineers etc. This is the story of the students of Grafisch Lyceum Rotterdam and their state-of-the-art, end-to-end Extreme powered network!
Grafisch Lyceum Rotterdam (GLR) is the largest and most innovative creative college for media, design and technology in the Benelux region. With over 400 qualified staff and educators and more than 4,000 ambitious students between the ages of 16 to 20 years old, the GLR offers a broad range of college-level educational programs dedicated to preparing its graduates for future careers in the media, design & technology industries.
The GLR’s ambition is to be the most innovative school of its kind in the whole wide Europe. To support this goal, the college does its best to stay at the forefront of technology and deliver an optimal user experience for its creative students. And, as you can see, with some good result, too.
High-speed cameras, professional film sets, recording studios, large format industrial printers, high-end e-sports equipment… you name it. But as the technology continues to develop at an increasing rate, with creative students moving from pictures and standard audio/video to the next generation quality AV content, so do the challenges for connectivity.
To keep pace and ensure a seamless user experience, the college sought a high performing, highly available, flexible, and future-proofed network solution capable of transporting professional audio and video signals of broadcast quality – anywhere and anytime.
A solution that would meet the needs of its students both today and tomorrow…
Step one: Wired LAN (2014)
So the first important requirement was the possibility of transporting the professional AV signals via the pre-existing Ethernet infrastructure. In 2014, the GLR undertook a competitive review of network technology from a number of vendors, including Brocade and Juniper. Eventually, the college chose a solution from Extreme Networks.
The new deployment consisted of two BlackDiamond X8 core switches that now form the main and backbone switches for the GLR’s network, together with Summit X460 and Summit X670 switches that deliver a high performance edge. But what really tipped the scale was Extreme’s Audio Video Bridging (AVB) technology.
“Extreme was the only vendor to offer AVB-enabled Ethernet switches that unified data, audio and video traffic on a single, standards-based network. The students and teachers are now able to access and edit professional AV content from anywhere via the Internet”, explains Sander Stolk, the Security Officer and Board Member at the GLR. “From that point moving forward, we have never experienced any bottlenecks in our network and that speaks volumes”.
“We have always led the way with this technology and continue to do so today”, says Roland Ivens, Senior Systems Engineer at Extreme, who was directly involved in the project. “The great thing about our AVB technology is that it’s simple to use in a layer 2 LAN environment. You don’t need the whole layer 3 stack, so it’s easy to implement into a dense multimedia environment like the GLR”.
But let’s talk some numbers. While most schools struggle to bring 1 gigabit to the edge, the GLR has actually… 20. In addition to its high performance capability, the solution allowed the GLR to build a robust, scalable, flexible, easy to manage, and future-proofed wired infrastructure.
“The simplified infrastructure and unified management allowed us to avoid the extensive time and resources previously required to connect proprietary or non-interoperable network elements”, Sander Stolk adds. “Having the same OS for all switches and one measurement portal to monitor the infrastructure means we can see exactly what’s happening across the whole network and make any necessary changes quickly and efficiently”.
Step two: Wi-Fi 6 & Cloud Enablement (2021)
Just like about any other college in Europe, the GLR has faced the growing challenge of mobility, where students, staff and administration users want to increasingly learn, teach and work with a diverse mix of devices from anywhere on and off campus. This translates into a need for a reliable, secure and efficient wireless network.
“The average GLR student uses up to 3 different mobile devices every day at the school. We expect this to rise to somewhere between 4 and 5 devices in the near future”, says Sander Stolk. “Our users require easy and fast access to technology resources and services such as voice, video and multimedia from anywhere, anytime, with any device they choose.”
Alas, the previous solution didn’t quite make the cut…
“Honestly, on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 2. Yes, we had signal. Yes, we had an SSID. But that was really it”, says Sander Stolk. “Given the density of our environment and its bandwidth-hungry applications, we opted for the next generation Wi-Fi 6. Especially that all our MacBooks were equipped with chips supporting 802.11ax. Fortunately, we had some previous experiences with a Wi-Fi 6 solution from Aerohive and after Extreme acquired them, we already knew what we wanted”.
Today, Grafisch Lyceum Rotterdam is using exactly 316 cloud-enabled AP410C Access Points from Extreme. All compatible with the Wi-Fi 6 standard, all running continuously.
“One of our locations, the VMBO*, is completely wireless, which basically means the network needs to be up and running 24/7. Disconnect that one switch and 500 students have no access to anything within the school”, Sander Stolk explains. “Data rates up to 4.8 Gbps, dual 5 GHz, dedicated dual-band threat sensor, dual power supply – we chose Extreme again because we knew we can expect reliability”.
Extreme Campus Controller, which enables the GLR’s wired and wireless orchestration, could be described as a hybrid cloud management appliance. With 410C, the first generation of APs to run multiple Extreme operating systems, the college also gained flexibility and choice between on-premise or potential future cloud deployment.
* A pre-vocational secondary education in the Netherlands
Step three: Full Network Automation, Segmentation & Security (2022)
The GLR’s ambition is to be the most innovative school of its kind in Europe. And the college authorities definitely put their money where their mouths are, as they’re getting ready to roll out the new, state-of-the-art E-Sports Space facility in September. In the coming years the GLR will be investing heavily in the phenomenon of competitive gaming and will integrate e-sports into education in various ways.
But the nature of development is that it’s never-ending. That applies to IT networks, too. After seven years of positive experience with Extreme’s wired solution, Sander Stolk sees some room for improvement.
“The GLR is growing, the data needs to go fast and needs to go big. Students need to quickly access their work files which often weigh around 200-300 MB, so we could use some higher LAN speed and transitions”, says the GLR’s Network Engineer. “We are also looking for ways to simplify the network management. The goal for 2022 is to replace our current wired setup with a more automated solution to further facilitate monitoring, management and provisioning”.
Naturally, Extreme already has a solution that’ll fit like a glove.
“Fabric Connect is the way to go because it means a fully automated network, effortless scalability, and security. You can add switch to a stack without interfering or reconfiguring or having to establish a fiber connection. Just plug in any network device you want and it will be automatically assigned to a VLAN or the shortest path”, Roland Ivens explains. “As for the security, you can extend Fabric Connect right to the edge of the network. This extension brings about a zero-touch and a zero-trust network edge by combining the automation enabled through auto-sense ports, with both the security and automation enabled by RADIUS or Network Access Control”.
Learn more about auto-sense ports
To sum things up…
The GLR may not produce stars of the global box office. But it does something far greater: it enables growth for all those names we see in the credits, without whom it would be virtually impossible to get any modern media project done.
And just like those silent heroes of the modern media and entertainment industry, the GLR’s network stays in the background and plays a crucial role in the college’s day-to-day operations. It simply needs to “work”.
With complete LAN (wired and wireless) and the campus controllers, the GLR’s network is more than ready for whatever the future of technology may bring.