The vast majority of our readers have likely never heard of Region 5 Education Service Center (ESC). But, everyone remembers Hurricane Harvey (August 2017), which decimated life for many in the eastern Texas coastal region. While most of us around the country (and world) are not affected by hurricanes, cyclones, or typhoons, we all pay attention when one of these monsters threatens or hits. Certainly, I do. I was born and raised in Houston. So when a customer calls from a coastal region, it’s a bit more personal.
ESCs were created by the state legislature in 1967 to serve the growing educational needs of southeastern coastal Texas. Region 5 ESC serves the school districts of Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Orange, Newton, and Tyler counties plus High Island ISD, Hull-Daisetta ISD, and East Chambers ISD. Their mission is to assist area school districts in improving student performance - and educational system efficiency and effectiveness - through administrative leadership, educational technology and media, special education, instructional services, information management, and business services. Approximately 87,000 students and more than 6,100 educators are the clients of their organization. To put that into perspective, the region has a population of about 500,000 - so the ESC’s reach and impact are quite significant. Having been pummeled by a hurricane - that literally reshaped the region’s landscape just three years ago - primary education, secondary education, and adult re-education all figure prominently in area restoration and prosperity.
The demands of community rebuilding are driving the need for a more robust educational network. Jerry Wilson, Network Manager - Region 5 Education Service Center, is chartered with network design, implementation, and operation. Region 5 ESC has been tasked with operating as an ISP for local schools. Additionally, two full BGP peers are required. Solution reliability is essential - given stretched staff must cover a lot of IT bases, and physical router redundancy is unaffordable until later. Finally, remote manageability is key.
With the currently deployed Cisco ASR, the ESC is restricted to three 10 Gbps interfaces: one to Windstream (an Internet Service Provider), one to the Texas Education Telecommunications Network (TETN), and one shared by the schools. For the growth plan, at least four 10 Gbps interfaces were required. Upgrading the ASR would be far too expensive, so Jerry began his search for an alternative. As a long-time user of pfSense® software, he decided to take a look at Netgate appliance options, where he stumbled onto a new software product called TNSR®. It looked interesting. TNSR software has several advantages over pfSense software, notably high-performance throughput, and an API well suited for remote orchestration management - which enables fast configuration changes as network needs evolve.
Jerry and I worked together to get a crisp capture of network design needs. His go-live timeframe was set for June/July 2020. We settled on a Netgate XG-1541 with a 5 Gbps TNSR software license, easily upgradable as their throughput needs increase. The XG-1541 is a perfect secure network gateway solution given its dual 10G SFP+ ports, dual 1 GbE RJ45 LAN ports, and an expansion slot for additional connectivity. It is a workhorse product at the top of Netgate’s appliance line up - with a proven track record where robust throughout and connection capacity are required. Equipping it with TNSR software allows customers to fully exploit its 10 Gbps ports, even under the pressure of heavily encrypted traffic. Best of all, we are now live - well ahead of schedule.
While Netgate provides secure networking solutions to every vertical on literally every continent on planet earth, education is, and always will be, a special sector for us - especially when it plays a pivotal role in the rebuilding of a regional economy. We’re honored to have Region 5 ESC as a customer, and wish all the best as they help improve life in the southeast Texas coastal region.