Budget Threshold of the Cloud Drastically Lowered at Schools Using Zyxel’s Nebula
TNA in Antwerp brings e-learning from the classroom to the Cloud
The Technicum North Antwerp (TNA) is located in Antwerp, Belgium and offers more than 40 courses in the Superstructure of Secondary Vocational Education (BSO), Secondary Adult Education (SVWO), Higher Vocational Education (HBO5) and the Specific Teacher Training (SLO). It also offers social, industrial, technical, creative and commercial courses where much is taught from practice. It’s TNA’s vision to prepare students and trainees to their highest potential for opportunities on the labor market. In the current digital era, this preparation also includes e-learning. In order to facilitate such learning, TNA enlisted Zyxel to renew its fixed and wireless network throughout the campus so it could bring students lessons using the Cloud.
The TNA campus consists of three buildings where more than 2,500 students are educated and 300 staff members work. Paul Broothaers has been IT coordinator and administrator since early 2018. He works with a team of three people. Together with the school management it was decided that it was time to renew both the fixed and the wireless network, both of which no longer met today's standards. Paul Broothaers: "At our school we are dealing with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD); many students bring their own laptop and/or smartphone. However, there are also students who do not have the means to do so. For those students there are one or more laptops in each classroom. Teachers also use their own laptops and smartphones. In short, quite a few mobile devices are used at school. We want to offer all these users a stable network, but our old network could no longer handle the situation. That's why we decided we needed to quickly change it.”
An important stipulation of Broothaers was to purchase all IT from one supplier: "We no longer wanted to be dependent on different partners for the construction and maintenance of our network. This is administratively undesirable. Moreover, in 2019 there will be a merger with four other CVOs at other locations in Belgium, which also made it interesting to bring the management of our network to the Cloud.”
The outdated network already consisted partly of Zyxel equipment and the experience with it was good. Also, the price-quality ratio of Zyxel is such that it fits in the budget of an institution such as TNA. After a visit by Zyxel and its partner Educorner, the decision was made to build the new network using Zyxel switches and access points. With a view to the upcoming merger with other CVOs and support for Zyxel, the Nebula Cloud, Zyxel's cloud-based management solution, was also chosen.
The implementation was completed within six months. This is unusually fast for such a complex roll-out in multiple buildings and with multiple user groups. Yet, it was not without a bit of struggle. Broothaers: "We had some technical configuration problems. To solve this, we first had contact with the Zyxel Support Center Europe and, finally, directly with a support team at Zyxel’s headquarters in Taiwan. They solved the problem for us within two weeks by releasing a new firmware. This indicates how far Zyxel goes when it comes to service.”
Test setup and Nebula
The implementation of Nebula Cloud is still in the testing phase although the school year has already begun. Both the wireless and wired network have been found stable, but there are still a few things that need to be adjusted. The network is still protected for certain user groups by firewalls and soon, also by a radius authentication server in the Cloud. According to Broothaers, this is not yet the ideal situation: "We still have to arrange who gets access to what. Think of streaming services like Netflix or YouTube videos during class. In addition, you don't want students to be able to join teachers on the network and vice versa. So you have to protect and segment this. With authentication via the Cloud it is very simple and safe. For two months now we have had a test set-up for it and we are working on it with our team. The goal is to have it in production before the end of the year as a solution.”
The advantage of the Cloud is that no matter where a teacher is located, he or she can access the school network and do it on any device. So teachers can access their documents, such as teaching materials and student grade lists, without time and place restrictions. To do so only one password is needed to log into the school network. This is important in view of the upcoming merger. In 2019, the CVO TNA will merge with four other CVOs outside Antwerp including those in Mechelen, Lier and Borgerhout. "If a teacher has to teach at a different location, for instance in Lier, he or she also wants to be able to access their documents via their device," says Broothaers. "Thanks to Zyxel's cloud network solutions managed with Nebula Cloud, this will soon be possible.” Another advantage of the Nebula Cloud platform is that it makes managing and monitoring much easier. You can consult the platform anywhere to locate problems in the infrastructure. "When you want to reset a device, a switch for example, Nebula Cloud allows you to do it at the push of a button. You don't have to drive to the location where the switch is located. This will save us a lot of time after the merger if we have multiple locations under our care.”
It is also possible, for example, to see whether a lot of data is being drawn from a particular computer. You can then block this computer. Broothaers: "An additional advantage is that Zyxel does not sell its Nebula Cloud on a licensed basis, but makes it available to everyone. As a result, it is now possible for schools with a lower budget to switch to cloud-based network management.” By offering the service free of charge Zyxel also wants to learn from TNA’s experiences and gain feedback from them. Broothaers thinks this is a super service from Zyxel and is very satisfied. He expects that the benefits such as less downtime, faster internet for different restricted user groups, logging in from different locations and easier management, will become more fully visible after the merger. He also hopes that other schools will follow the TNA’s example.