About the school
Albany Junior High School (AJHS) is the first purpose-built Junior High School (for years 7 to 10 and 11 to 15 year olds) in New Zealand. AJHS is designed philosophically and structurally to identify and cater specifically for, the needs of the emerging adolescent. As a 21st Century school ICT is integrated across the curriculum and AJHS strives to stay at the leading edge of advances in ICT.
The school's challenges
The school’s previous firewall and VPN solution was aging and was due to become end of line technology. To 'force' an upgrade, the vendors had stated that the support costs for the old technology were about to become extremely expensive. The previous solution also had limited Active Directory integration and it was not possible to enforce web filtering to the user level. Its blanket set of rules made creating exceptions difficult and time-consuming.
Speed was also a significant problem for AJHS. With the advent of school-wide use of Google Apps for email and portfolios of student work, AJHS had upgraded their Internet connection to 100Mbps. However, the previous firewall and VPN solution could only offer a speed of 17Mbps with all security services switched on. The school also had a separate appliance for SSL VPN and a web proxy and these had their own set of support and subscription costs. Maintaining a slow and expensive system made increasingly less sense.
Change was lead by AJHS Deputy Principal and IT Director Darren Spilling. "After discussing the issue with the Board of Trustees, we decided to examine the market and to look for a solution that could offer VPN, web proxy, filtering and firewall services as one appliance,” he says. "We wanted granular control down to the individual user level and the ability to achieve our full Internet speed with all security services applied. It was also important for the solution to be future proof and to offer support for all platforms and mobile devices.”
Tendering for a solution
The school gave various vendors the opportunity to tender for a new solution that could deliver all of its requirements for cross platform support, high speed Internet, security and granular bandwidth and filtering controls to the individual user level from one appliance. It was an expectation that each vendor would be able to quote for the unit including five years of security subscriptions and support. "We also expected that the vendors involved would be able to demonstrate that the unit could provide all of this in our environment and to demonstrate this,” Spilling says.
Choosing integration partners
The tender was eventually given to SnapperNet, who installed a new Cyberoam system in conjunction with reseller Sentinel Technologies. Spilling praises the level of support SnapperNet’s Solutions Consultant technician Byron Paul provided. "Byron's level of technical skill and his level of dedication to meeting our requirements with the right model of Cyberoam for our needs was impressive,” he says.
"Byron was provided with a copy of all of our firewall rules and implemented these on a demonstration unit. He spent a considerable amount of time with us so that we could test all of the capabilities of the Cyberoam.”
A future-proofed school
AJHS now has over 1300 users, including 1200 students and over 100 staff, connecting to their firewall / VPN from Apple, Linux and Windows machines plus portable devices such as iPads and Android devices. Their costs are now fixed for the next 5 years and they are achieving a significant saving by no longer paying separate subscriptions for VPN and proxy. "It’s a complicated system, and SnapperNet’s technical skills have been invaluable for allowing us to leverage its full capabilities,” Spilling says.
The new system meets the school’s current needs but also puts it in an enviable position to successfully manage a fast-changing future. "Within 5 years we believe that the majority of our students will bring a smart phone, tablet or laptop device to school and the Cyberoam system will meet our need to provide network and Internet connectivity to all of them,” says Spilling. "These technologies have the potential to deeply enrich our students’ learning experiences. We want to be able to encourage them to use these devices, and now we can, because with our Cyberoam system we can carefully manage what they are able to access at school.”
"We have also made a commitment to using Google Apps as our primary productivity suite for at least 5 years and now that we are able to achieve the full speed of our Internet connection, this has been a success,” says Spilling. "Students can now access their work on any platform and at any time and we are no longer tied to a specific operating system. Hence, we are installing Linux on our older machines and using the capabilities of the Cyberoam system to control access.”
Teachers and other staff members are also benefiting from the new system. "From a staff perspective, having a more streamlined and versatile VPN makes a big difference,” he says. "If they have Apple or Linux equipment at home they can now use the VPN, whereas before Windows would have been their only choice.
With the system’s granular control and its ability to customise access for each user, the school can give each user the exact type of internet access required for their unique needs. "We’ve given expanded access, for example, to our Tech Team, a group of select students who help staff and their fellow classmates with IT support, and test new features,” Spilling says.