Case Study: Texas Region 11 Leans on Netsync for Scalable Internet Service

Dozens of School Districts Shrink Costs While Rightsizing Access

The Challenge

Fast, reliable Internet access is critical for connecting students, teachers and staff. No teaching tool is more crucial for education, but it can be expensive. Traditional models for Internet services strain IT budgets and funnel taxpayer money into legacy providers. 

Stretching from Little Elm in the east to Strawn in the west, from Stephenville in the south and reaching north to Sivells Bend on the Red River, Texas’s Region 11 Education Service Center (ESC) sought bulk rate Internet service to support K12 education in 10 diverse counties that include large cities and small towns.

This was a massive, and diverse, undertaking. The Region supports 77 public school districts and 66 charter campuses, including more than 578,000 students and almost 71,000 educators. 

Netsync, with deep expertise serving education organizations, offered a cost-effective alternative that combined cutting-edge technology with detailed project management and unmatched customer service to bridge the gap between users and providers.

A Detailed Response to a Complex Dilemma

Netsync and its partners Cisco, Zayo and Polatis worked with Region 11 to build a dark fiber network and light it, removing all middlemen and placing those savings back into the school districts. By leveraging the Cisco ASR 9000 Series Aggregation Services Routers to backhaul traffic and the Cisco Network Convergence System 2000 to provide a Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) optical layer, suddenly the door opened for powerful links up to 10 Gbps – per circuit.

“We knew that larger urban school districts with thousands of students and educators needed a much different level of Internet service than smaller, rural districts,” said Rory Peacock, Deputy Executive Director of Technology Services at Region 11. “But all our districts and all our campuses had one goal in common – reliable Internet service that was always available.”

The school districts in the region cover an area approximately 6,000 square miles and stretch more 150 miles from the furthest schools being served. This kind of network exceeds metropolitan capabilities and requires a true regional approach.

Hub sites were selected to support their nearby areas, balancing fiber construction costs, optical transceiver capabilities, existing fiber availability and bandwidth needs. Several districts were then given the option to join the regional consortium in a more pivotal role as these integral hub sites. This provided a mutual benefit, as they provided increased infrastructure to the project while being given a discount on their bandwidth cost. The Cisco NCS 2000 200-Gbps Multirate DWDM Line Card carried 100 Gbps (100G) circuits from each hub site to the ESC datacenter.

Generally, a topology covering such a large and diverse network would require multiple and costly fiber connections. But the Cisco NCS 2000 uses DWDM technology to combine multiple signals onto a single fiber, allowing a massive network to exist on one fiber pair.

A Challenge Turned Opportunity

Initially, this large area appeared to be a challenge. However, it also served as an opportunity.

It was clear the network of hub sites had a core area, and multiple paths opened up to provide fully diverse uplinks with protection across the main paths. Leveraging the Cisco ROADM architecture and Polatis Fiber-Switching, each 100G laser is optically split to traverse separate paths back to the datacenter. This takes advantage of the underlying physics and robust scalability of the NCS to integrate with third-party equipment at a competitive price point – with a sub-50ms switching time.

To harness the power of 100G circuits while right-sizing the resources to fit the needs of each individual school district, the Cisco ONS 15454 10-Port 10 Gbps Line Card allows 10G and 1G circuits to be carried on each 100G carrier.

“This opened up a wealth of options for larger and smaller districts alike,” said Peacock. “Several larger districts opted to receive circuits in diversely-routed locations, through different hub sites.”

Due to the size of the regional consortium, the ESC was able to secure multiple 100G uplinks to the Internet at their Service Center DC and feed them through multiple ASR 9904 Routers. By breaking the 100G circuits into 10G handoffs and working with Region 11 to select the appropriate path, a single school district could be served by two different backhauls. This way, even if an Edge site was constrained to a single Hub, traffic was protected at the device level, service provider level, and fiber-path level. Ultimately, Region 11 and Netsync were able to provide Internet service that could scale to the needs of each school district – allowing them the autonomy to decide on their speed and capability – at a cost that met the demands of taxpayers.