Bibb County School District Lays the Foundation of Schools of the Future

The Bibb County School District (Bibb County) serves more than 25,000 K–12 students in the Macon, Georgia area and employs approximately 3,500 faculty and staff. Its mission is to develop a highly trained staff and an engaged community dedicated to educating each student to succeed in a 21st-century global society. 

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The Challenge
Supporting new approaches to K–12 education
To provide students with a 21st-century education, the district needed to modernize its information technology (IT) infrastructure. A distributed computing model with servers spread across the district at 41 schools and 12 support facilities made IT management difficult, while insufficient network bandwidth and aging hardware caused reliability and performance issues.  “To achieve our vision of the school of the future, we needed to standardize and centralize our IT infrastructure,” says Dr. Mike Hall, executive director of technology, Bibb County Board of Education.
With a student population equal to that of a midsized city, Bibb County required an enterprise class solution with disaster recovery (DR) capabilities. However, the solution also had to be easy to manage because the district did not have the budget to add IT headcount. “Technology is the answer to being able to change instruction and deliver content in new and compelling ways, but initially there was a lot of skepticism about what we could deliver given our limited operating budget,” says Hall.

The Solution
A centralized FlexPod infrastructure with full DR
Bibb County engaged Presidio, a NetApp partner, to equip a new network operations center and DR site with state-of-the-art equipment. The district decided to implement a FlexPod Datacenter architecture, which includes a validated infrastructure solution based on NetApp® FAS3220 storage systems, Cisco® Unified Computing System™ (UCS®) blade servers, and Cisco Nexus® switches. “We looked at multiple products and decided that FlexPod provided the most consistent, secure solution to help us move the district forward,” says Hall. “From a SAN perspective, NetApp gives us scalability, flexibility, and ease of use, which are key factors for a district such as Bibb with limited resources. FlexPod provides us with the greatest flexibility with nearly limitless expansion capabilities. It’s also important to us that FlexPod is backed by a cooperative support model between NetApp and Cisco, enabling faster resolution of any issues.”

Presidio deployed a FlexPod platform at the district’s new network operations center and DR site and provided ongoing managed services and 24/7 proactive monitoring once the implementation was complete. The district also took the opportunity to virtualize servers with VMware® vSphere® to improve resource utilization and management efficiency. “Presidio assisted us in virtualizing our legacy servers with VMware, and NetApp was instrumental in helping us decide what data we needed to migrate to FlexPod,” says Hall.
“Cisco came in and did an analysis of our network. There was tight alignment between all three teams, and we were happy to work with knowledgeable people who got the job done quickly and correctly.”  The NetApp systems run the NetApp clustered Data ONTAP® operating system, a storage operating system designed to eliminate downtime with a unified, scale-out architecture. NetApp SnapMirror® software replicates changed data blocks from the district’s network operations center to its DR site multiple times throughout the day. NetApp deduplication improves storage utilization while NetApp OnCommand® Unified Manager optimizes storage management.  “By using FlexPod as the basis of our network operations center, we were able to completely overhaul our infrastructure and offer enterprise-class services to all 41 schools in the district without adding headcount to our IT team,” says Hall. “We were able to stay within our operating budget, which is critical in K–12.”

Business Benefits
Enabling better educational experiences
With its new FlexPod architecture, Bibb County has improved the reliability and performance of IT services district wide. Instead of driving from location to location to fix computers and troubleshoot network issues, IT staff can spend more time training teachers to help them get the most value from technology. “We have some really excited students and teachers right now,” says Hall. “With FlexPod, connectivity problems are no longer an issue, and teachers have access to thousands of resources and tools that they never had before. They’re able to creatively use technology as a tool for instruction in the classroom. We’ve already seen teachers make incredible advances in their lessons.”

Zero downtime for applications and data
Since deploying FlexPod running clustered Data ONTAP, Bibb County schools have benefitted from 100% systems availability. Faculty and staff can access their Microsoft® Exchange e-mail without interruption, and Microsoft SQL Server® databases remain online at all times, serving needed data. If a disaster occurs at the network operations center, all data can be seamlessly recovered from the DR site across a robust 40-gigabit wide area network. “We could run the entire district from the FlexPod at our DR site if necessary,” says Hall. “In Macon, Georgia, that’s important, because we have all sorts of weather situations that could impact us.”

More options for the future
Bibb County has opened the door for its schools to be able to launch bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and one-to-one initiatives to put more devices in students’ hands. Two schools have already launched BYOD programs, increasing engagement and student achievement. “With FlexPod from NetApp and Cisco, we’ve given our schools the capability to grow and improve,” says Hall. “Our goal is to drastically change instruction and help students become more engaged. It’s clear that through that increased engagement, we can make a positive impact on academic achievement. FlexPod turned out to be a truly powerful solution that is changing what takes place in this district and what teachers can do in the classroom.”