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Saving Money with Open-Source Solutions – Davenport University

Although both private and public colleges have been forced to drastically cut their budgets due to the declining state of the economy, high education institutions are experiencing a heightened level of accountability for services, security and productivity. In an effort to keep operations running efficiently, numerous colleges and universities have pursued alternative approaches for their software and IT needs.
Davenport University
Davenport University needed a new solution to effectively manage its networks within cost and time constraints. The university has over 13,000 students at 14 locations and remote sites. Its two networking staff members were having a hard time managing 157 closets and over 600 devises on a daily basis. With such a small staff working on distant hardware and complex configurations, Davenport needed to adapt a more manageable software system. Pete Hoffswell, Network Manager at Davenport University, wanted a solution within Davenport’s budget that would allow for reliable network visibility and statistical data. Instead of continuing to pay for the complications of proprietary software, the IT staff at Davenport decided to begin managing their network with open-source applications.

With the amount of students and staff constantly using Davenport’s systems, its IT staff needed high performance applications that could be monitored closely and effectively. To find the open-source software that was right for Davenport, its staff used an application called SourceForge. This electronic directory connects more than 46 million consumers with over 300,000 different open-source projects. Hoffswell and his staff used this website to look for popular and secure software programs. They then monitored each application’s activity, its active developers and its active users. They also tested potential applications in a sandbox environment to see how they would work with Davenport’s systems and information. Hoffswell wanted to give back to the open-source projects they would use, which in turn would allow him and his staff to influence the direction of the products to better align with Davenport’s needs.

“We have found the Open Source community to be very inviting. Software authors have a passion about the applications they write, and are very open to help with installation and configuration. As we have gotten involved with certain projects, we are able to give positive feedback to the project through helping debug code, or offering ideas for new features,” said Hoffswell.

One of the applications they decided to use is Cacti. Cacti is a complete network graphing solution that is designed for data storage and graphic functionality. It provides dedicated pollers, advanced graphing templates, multiple data acquisition methods, and user management features. This application can be easily downloaded for both Linux/Unix and Windows interfaces, and includes development road maps so users can analyze its progress.

Hoffswell said that this application has helped to improve both customer support and staff satisfaction. “In the past, our customer support staff would have to call network operations every time they thought there was a network issue. It was common for me to get “Is the network down?” and “Is the network slow?” calls from our support center. We resolved this to great success by implementing Cacti’s weathermap plugin. Now staff can check current network conditions, and use this information to better troubleshoot with our customers.”

Another application Davenport uses is Smokeping, which used to track an organization’s network latency visualization and provides latency measurement plug-ins, as well as a highly configurable alerting system. Its most updated versions are available on the Smokeping website, along with its documentation, demos, libraries and statistics. Both of these applications give Davenport concrete data that allows its staff to efficiently monitor how their network is used. It gives them the information they need to resolve potential network complications at a lower cost.

Davenport also used SourceForge to find Network Tracking Database (NetDB). NetDB tracks all entries in an organization’s MAC and ARP tables across its network routers and switches over time. It monitors the usage of static IP addresses and generates reports for static address recovery. Among several other major features, NetDB identifies any problems with an organization’s devices and locates their current or last state on the network. This application was appealing to Davenport not only for its tracking tools, but also because it runs through a secure and easy-to-use web interface.

In addition to these applications, Hoffswell and his team have also used Net Flow Sensor (NfSen), RANCID, and Network Security Toolkit (NST) to handle Davenport’s network. Replacing proprietary software has made a positive impact on the university, and has significantly reduced stress on IT costs. It has allowed for effective collaboration with other software users, as well as customization for Davenport’s specific needs. The transition has also increased job satisfaction for Davenport’s IT staff as they have become better able to manage its network. The use of open-source applications has ultimately made Davenport a member of a supportive and technologically advanced community, which has provided the opportunity for productive networking and growth.

About Davenport University

Davenport University has been a Merit Member since September of 2003, and 25 of its sites are connected to Merit’s network by a 1 Gbps connection.

Founded in 1866, Davenport is a private, non-profit university with campuses across Michigan and online courses serving an enrollment of more than 13,000 students. With tuition among the lowest of all private universities in the state, Davenport provides high academic quality, small class sizes, conveniently located campuses, faculty with real-world experience and more than 40 dynamic undergraduate and graduate programs addressing in-demand careers. More information is available at www.davenport.edu.