The University of Siegen depends on a functioning IT infrastructure for university operations. To increase the security and resilience of the network, the system managers opted for Resilience Gateways from Opengear’s ACM7000 series.
Increase security, simplify management
Networks are the foundation for digitization at universities. Campus networks, however, pose particular challenges for IT teams because they usually span multiple buildings that are not always easily accessible. In the event of a network outage or maintenance, if out-of-band (OOB) management is not available, an on-site technician must take care of servers, switches and applications. This on-site management of the network is increasingly complicated, time-consuming and not feasible in the long term.
In addition, the network infrastructure at universities must be available around the clock. Students and professors need uninterrupted access to systems and applications. This ranges from confidential personal data and enrollment information, to lecture notes and internal communications, to sensitive research data or even submissions of coursework and exams.
Entry-level device with high-end functionality
The University of Siegen in North Rhine-Westphalia was also confronted with this challenge. Around 17,500 students and more than 2,200 employees access the IT infrastructure spread across six campuses across the city. The sites are connected via a fiber-optic ring, and 280 technical rooms with an average of four switches each connect the infrastructure for lecture halls, laboratories and offices. Until now, copper-to-fiber media converters were used to connect the copper-based Ethernet devices from Cisco and Juniper – whether in the core routing or also in the access area – via a fiber optic connection. But that also meant that if a media converter failed, the management functions were no longer available and the switches virtually disappeared from the network team’s field of vision. In addition, the administrative effort was high because BIOS upgrades and other updates always had to be performed directly on site.
The network team at the University of Siegen therefore wanted to increase the security of the infrastructure, especially in the case of firmware updates, faulty software patches or misconfigurations. If SSH (Secure Shell) access was not possible, at least an alternative path via a console and CLI (Command Line Interface) should be available. In addition, since the network infrastructure is based on SFP fibre, an OOB device that natively supports this standard was needed.
Devices from various manufacturers were put under the microscope as part of a proof-of-concept phase. The University of Siegen chose the ACM7000 Resilience Gateway series from Opengear, more specifically the ACM7004-5 and ACM7004-5 LMR models with SIM card slot. One of the advantages of the Opengear series over its competitors is that the entry-level ACM7000 units already have SFP fiber optic modules. Each technical room is now equipped with an Opengear console server, and the University of Siegen uses the Lighthouse management software for its central management. Through the solution, all logged-in console servers and network devices are automatically provisioned, managed and configured.
Thanks to OOB, administrators at the University of Siegen can now manage critical IT components such as switches and routers, as well as security appliances such as firewalls and encryption tools, remotely and without interruption. If connectivity issues occur, OOB provides a failover solution (F2C) via cellular or other options to ensure business continuity. Access to the log files of affected devices also helps identify the root causes of a failure and initiate recovery actions in a timely manner. In the vast majority of cases, this eliminates the need for an on-site visit by a technician. If a visit is necessary, the technician knows in advance which spare parts are needed to fix the problem.
A network available around the clock.
Today, Siegen University benefits from easy management of all network devices within the decentralized infrastructure. Firmware updates and software updates can be deployed securely over the Open-VPN between Lighthouse and the devices. If network problems do occur, the more detailed diagnostic capabilities allow for faster, more accurate analysis and therefore troubleshooting. The copper-to-fiber media converters are no longer needed. In addition, because the console servers have a longer average service life, the University of Siegen has achieved significant cost savings. In addition, system administrators can work more productively because they can access numerous devices and system consoles simultaneously from any location via a single interface. On-site work to perform core router updates and firewall upgrades, for example, is now a thing of the past. At the same time, many other devices, such as scanners, printers, lab equipment and libraries, can be network-enabled so that students and faculty can access them over the network.
“We have achieved the goals we set for the project. We no longer need media converters and now, with Opengear’s Resilience Gateways, we have a solution that provides us with high-end functionalities. The network is more resilient than before thanks to the alternative access path. We can access it remotely, which was a big advantage, especially during the pandemic. In addition, we can integrate other devices into the OOB management using the various interfaces.”
Jens Aßmann, Head of Department at ZIMT (Center for Information and Media Technology) at the University of Siegen
About the University of Siegen
The University of Siegen is a young, dynamic and innovative university in North Rhine-Westphalia. Around 17,500 young people will be studying there in the winter semester 2021/22. More than 2,200 employees ensure that the course is set for the future in administration, research and teaching. Excellent cultural and media research has been a tradition at the University of Siegen for many years, and another focus is the area of sensor technology and nanoscience. With the nationally acclaimed project “Siegen. Wissen verbindet” (“Siegen. Knowledge Connects”) project, which has attracted nationwide attention, the relocation of further faculties to the city center is planned, so that a large university campus will be created around the historic Untere Schloss in the center of Siegen.