Florida city flips the switches on new network, new opportunities
Until last year, the city of Boynton Beach, Fla., was operating a network with 13-year-old equipment that was becoming difficult and expensive to maintain, subject to a growing number of failures and limited in the equipment and applications that could be used. But the middle of a recession was not a good time for an upgrade.
“With tight budgets, we tried to make everything last as long as possible,” said Laurie Gagner, the city’s network manager and head of its IT services network team.
The failure of a switch serving the city manager’s office about two years ago ended up having a silver lining, however. “The next think you know, we had approval to upgrade the network,” Gagner said.
The result was a wholesale replacement of networking equipment that began in October 2012, and is expected to be completed in March. The new network not only is more reliable but also will be able to support a new generation of services, such as wireless access and interactive voice response for the new phone system that is being planned.
In addition to an increasing number of breakdowns and the difficulty of replacing hardware, it was becoming difficult to put new applications on the old network that could allow citizen services to be extended online. Gagner has no complaints about the old network, however.
“We got an amazing return on investment,” she said. “Any time equipment lasts more than 10 years, that’s incredible.” But the new network should make life in Boynton Beach city offices easier, both for the tech staff that maintains it and for its users. “This is opening the door to a whole new world of technology for our departments.”
The city, located on Florida’s Atlantic coast, with a population of about 69,000, is not going far afield for the new infrastructure. The original network was built with Nortel equipment. Nortel Enterprise Solutions was acquired by Avaya in 2009, and Avaya was selected last year for the $200,000 upgrade project. The new network is built on Avaya’s 5000, 4000 and 3000 series Ethernet switches, and 8100 series wireless LAN switches. Gagner says the new network is not a Cadillac, just a solid network.
“Price was probably at the top of the list” of factors in selecting a vendor, she said. “But we wanted quality and reliability, too.”
Resiliency is one of the selling points for the switches, according to Avaya. Switch clustering provides redundancy and enables active failover quick enough to support time-sensitive services such as voice and streaming media. As many as eight switches, each with 128 gigabytes/sec throughput, can be stacked to provide up to a terabit of throughput. This throughput also can be turned down during off-peak times to reduce energy consumption, making them more energy efficient and reducing operating cost.
Improvements in throughput, reliability and the ability to prioritize services allow the new equipment to accommodate changes in the way networks are being used, said Jake Power, Avaya’s senior director of networking product marketing. “The changes have been incredible in the last few years,” he said, with the number of remote devices skyrocketing. Users of smart phones and tablets expect the same online experience they get from a laptop or desktop PC in a home office.
This performance can be supported by Web-based tools for administering and monitoring the network that enable policies for controlling individual connections. Security and access policies can be created to allow wireless guest log-ins to the network, so that employees and visitors can connect using their own devices in city buildings, with their access to resources monitored and controlled according to the security of device being used.
When selecting the new technology, Gagner took advantage of the city’s police department, which a year earlier had upgraded its own separate network. The department also chose Avaya. The new network supports three main city government sites — the city hall, the fire department with a secondary data center, and utilities buildings — as well as 22 remote sites. The municipal network is connected to the Florida LambdaRail high-speed fiber optic network in Palm Beach County.
The city contracted with Avaya for engineering services, but is using its own staff to install the equipment. The six-man staff was able to install city hall in one weekend, Gagner said. “Careful planning and preparation has been key.”
Installation of WiFi access points, which Gagner calls “the fun part” of the project, is the final part of the current phase of implementation. The next round of improvements will be replacing the current PBX phone system, which is expected to go out for bids in March. By taking advantage of the new network, the city expects to be able to incorporate interactive voice response in the system, replace persons answering phones and expand customer services.
“We didn’t have the foundation to put in a system like that before,” Gagner said. “Now we do.”
Other customer and citizen services also can be supported by the new network, which the city hopes will help replace the need for in-person transactions. But one of the biggest improvements in the new network is not technology related. “The peace of mind of almost 100 percent uptime,” Gagner said, “has made a significant difference in our way of thinking.”