MSPID

Mount Pleasant ISD Uses Cumulus Linux to Create a Flexible, Open and Reliable Data Center

"

We simply cannot have our systems go down, because it is the students that will pay the price for our failure.

Noe Arzate, Director of Technology

Industry

Education

Business Objective

Improve Availability, Openness & Flexibility for IT Infrastructure

Partners

Penguin Computing, Dell, Red Hat, Midokura

Overview

Mount Pleasant Independent School District (ISD) is an award-winning, fully accredited K-12 school district that also offers active early childhood, Early Head Start, Head Start and pre-K programs. The district serves more than 5500 students on eight campuses, including a Child Development Center, four kindergarten through third grade campuses, a middle school campus (fifth and sixth grade), a junior high campus (seventh and eighth grade) and a high school (ninth through 12th grade). The district is also a full partner with the Northeast Texas Community College and the Mount Pleasant Economic Foundation in the Industry Technology Training Center.

The ISD’s IT department is relatively small, consisting of a network specialist, sysadmin and several network and computer technicians, all of whom are led by Director of Technology Noe Arzate. Despite its small size, the group is quite advanced in terms of the technology it employs, having been an early adopter of virtualization, software-defined networking, containers and other advanced infrastructure trends.

Data center team administer needs high availability, particularly when district-wide testing is underway, and teachers demand 24x7 connectivity, since they connect at all hours from home. The IT staff values flexibility; part of their philosophy is to avoid vendor lock-in at all costs. They also want the ability to deploy new services at will. Finally, ease-of-use and leveraging the skill set already in-house are key factors in evaluating any new system.

Challenges

When the time came to replace their aging network infrastructure, the team used three guiding principals — reliability, flexibility and ease of use — as evaluation criteria for selecting a new design.

IT team was dealing with significant reliability demands and the decision regarding the new solution and design had to be made with network uptime in mind. A great support infrastructure was critical to ensure a successful deployment. They needed to be able to reach the support team rapidly and address any issues without affect students and teachers productivity.

Team also wanted the ability to easily scale their network and continue using their tools without any vendor lock-in. Ability to deliver new services rapidly was also critical. Finally, for quick deployment, the team wanted to leverage their existing in-house skill set.

Solution

In order to meet these challenges, Mount Pleasant ISD built an OpenStack project with Cumulus Linux running on Arctica 4804i bare metal switches from Penguin Computing. Once the implementation was underway, the Mount Pleasant ISD IT team began to observe results that directly correlated to their guiding factors of reliability, flexibility and ease of use.

RELIABLE

A big part of the reliability factor for this implementation was vendor support. Getting great support is critical to maintaining uptime, and Cumulus Networks delivered support quickly and effectively. Mount Pleasant found its experience with Cumulus Networks to be a far cry from its experience with other vendors. "Some vendors make it so complicated to get support," said Arzate. "You have to get resellers and three to four other people on the phone before you even know what your entitlement is. This represented a big challenge for our team." Luckily, Cumulus Networks was able to deliver a new model. Emails are answered quickly and the documentation is solid, Arzate reported. "With Cumulus, we just made a call and we were instantly in touch with an expert that could help us," he said. Within minutes the team is back to business.

FLEXIBILITY

Getting away from a model of vendor lock-in was arguably the most important outcome to the Mount Pleasant ISD IT team. They wanted the ability and flexibility to use any tools that they felt necessary for their business. By moving to the OpenStack model with Cumulus Linux as a networking foundation, the Mount Pleasant team looks forward to creating a completely automated data center that is capable of spinning up new services in minutes while being flexible enough to incorporate any new tool from any hardware vendor. Thus far, the implementation has shown this to be possible and is expected to deliver OpEx and CapEx savings as well.

SIMPLICITY AND EASE OF USE

Because most of the team was already familiar with Linux, Cumulus Linux was an easy choice. Even for team members that didn't have a Linux background, the learning curve was not particularly steep. They just needed to get used to the concept of installing an OS on top of a bare metal switch. Overall, the team took to the new interface like the proverbial duck to water. By delivering on each of these guiding criteria — flexibility, reliability and ease of use — Open Networking with Cumulus Linux provided the foundation for an implementation that looks to replace an aging Cisco shop with a modern, fully automated data center capable of assimilating new tools and hardware based on needs of the IT team, rather than those of the vendor.

"

Cumulus Linux gives me the flexibility to go to any hardware vendor I want.

Noe Arzate, Director of Technology

Recap

With a network refresh on the horizon Mount Pleasant ISD built a reliable, flexible and ease to use OpenStack environment with Cumulus Linux. The team was able to leverage existing tools and skill-set, while breaking away from a vendor lock-in model.