Last week I had the pleasure to interview Tracy Dennis of Antioch Unified School District, located in Antioch, California.

JK: How did you come to know SolarWinds for your network management needs?
TD: It happened when we were changing daylight savings time in California a few years ago.  We have a large array of older Cisco products which did not natively support the new daylight savings time so we were going to need to manually reconfigure about 500 network devices.  This would have taken several days to do.  Our integrator recommended we use SolarWinds to automate this process.  We downloaded and tried Network Configuration Manager (NCM) and were able to push a script out to all 500 devices in about 10 minutes.  This product changed my job!

JK: Aside from saving weeks of time in making configuration management changes, how else to you use Network Configuration Manager?
TD: Whenever we have a major project, we go out to bid and sometimes we have multiple firms helping us with our network.  Network Configuration Manager gives me peace of mind because if one of these firms makes a configuration change that results in loss of service, I can easily compare the configurations on all devices and pinpoint what happened in my environment, see who made the change, and resolve it quickly.

JK: What other SolarWinds products do you use?
TD: We use most of the products in the Orion suite – Network Performance Monitor, Server & Application Monitor, VoIP & Network Quality Manager, Integrated Virtual Infrastructure Monitor and NetFlow Traffic Analyzer.

JK: Why did you choose SolarWinds for your network and server performance monitoring needs?
TD:  Previously we used a product called InterMapper, but we needed to have better support for the number of network devices, applications and server resources we support.  We were so happy with NCM and we had seen online demos of Network Performance Monitor, and because of that good experience, we decided to buy a suite of SolarWinds products and we signed a 5 year maintenance agreement.

JK: What are the benefits of using Network Performance Monitor?
TD: We can manage our bandwidth - show the top talkers, where the traffic is going and we have visibility into how the network is performing.  With Orion’s flexible interface, this visibility can be shared across all teams.  For example, I have a customized Orion portal for me which looks at key network components, interfaces and utilization metrics; my co-worker who manages the server infrastructure has a custom view of server, application and virtual environment metrics, and we also have a custom view for the desktop support team.  This is very beneficial because the help desk does not always need to rely on me to understand what is going on in the environment.   They have visibility into network and server status and can often diagnose and remediate network issues without having to wait for me! It just allows us to provide better customer service.

Being proactive is also a huge time saver.  With so many aging facilities, one of our biggest challenges is power outages. Because of the proactive alerts, I’m often the first to see an outage and report it to Maintenance, so the problem is often fixed well before our teaching staff even starts their day.

JK: Being a K12 school district, you are probably faced with challenges of BYOD/BYOA.  How are you dealing with this challenge?
The California Department of Education has a new mandate requiring all state testing to be performed on-line for all students starting in 2014.  This is one of the driving forces moving us away from thick textbooks and putting portable devices in the students’ hands with access to educational portals (textbooks, testing, etc.).

We are building out a large wireless network and we will need to monitor this environment to ensure there is adequate bandwidth, that the devices are up and running and healthy, and so on.  Right now our major challenge is figuring out how to support a wide array of devices and OS’s on the network, specifically the authentication of these devices to the network and to the various academic systems we support.



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