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Columbia Southern U Tracks Network Activity To Improve Access to Educational Tools

Columbia Southern University has gone public with an implementation of a program it put into place at the end of 2009 to monitor availability and bandwidth of its network. The online for-profit university, owned by Mayes Education and based in Alabama, has about 9,300 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. It licensed Paessler AG's PRTG Network Monitor in December 2009 to keep track of network activity and resources to improve access and delivery of the university's curriculum.

In January 2010 Mayes Education finalized the acquisition of Waldorf College, a physical campus in Forest City, IA, which quickly introduced distance programs. That added an additional 600 students to the network.

Travis Foschini, manager of IT, was already familiar with Paessler's IP Check, an earlier version of PRTG. He and his team did an evaluation of both PRTG and Ipswitch's WhatsUp Gold. They chose PRTG for its flexibility, adaptability, and ease of use. The initial implementation monitored 30 physical servers; that has since grown to include 150 virtual servers, 20 physical servers, and other network gear. The installation includes 3,000 sensors monitoring activities on devices from Dell, HP, Cisco, VMware, APC, and others.

"PRTG is a key to maximizing productivity in a tough economy," Foschini said. "It ensures that we're always providing the best service to students, but also positions each resource for maximum benefit to the traditional employees, yielding higher results and less wait time throughout."

Of particular use are PRTG's instant alerts and historical performance tracking. PRTG tracks historical performance for each monitored component, which makes it possible for the IT team to establish "baseline" metrics and identify deviations. PRTG can be configured to send customized automatic alerts via SMS, e-mail, or phone when out-of-threshold activities occur--such as hardware failure, server demand spikes, or dramatically increasing bandwidth usage.

"PRTG is like our second shift, working after hours, on weekends and holidays to make sure our network is up and running," Foschini said. "We rely on it heavily 24/7, because we don't have 24/7 staff."

Foschini said the program has also been useful in IT planning. By monitoring for bandwidth usage and quality of service, PRTG has helped IT better determine if or when to buy more capacity--and when to simply optimize current resources. It's also used to provision VMware and storage area network resources by indicating when the universities are nearing usage capacity.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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