Centre College Pulls of Thrill in the ‘Ville II with a Network Infrastructure Deployed by boice.netNovember 20, 2012 No Comments
After hosting the Vice Presidential Debate in 2000, the Associated Press reviewed it “As close to flawless as humanly possible,” and Dan Rather at NBC concurred, saying, “Centre put on a five-star debate.” The media labeled the event “Thrill in the ‘Ville,” a moniker the college has adopted proudly. Obviously, when Centre College was awarded their bid to host the Vice Presidential Debate 2012, the stakes were high.
boice.net had been selected as a leading IT partner by Centre College a short time before the college was notified that it would host the 2012 debate. As a smaller IT company, there was initial concern that boice.net’s team could pull off an undertaking of the magnitude required by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the Secret Service, and both campaigns. After all, the world would be watching. However, the team’s consistent attention to detail, the Cisco certified engineers who have helped boice.net achieve Gold partner status, and the involvement of the Cisco SLED team quickly put those concerns to rest.
Hosting a Vice Presidential Debate
During the nine months preceding the event, the project requirements included the development of an infrastructure totally independent from the college’s existing network and data center. The Commission on Presidential Debates and the Secret Service supplied the specs and requirements for the supporting infrastructure.
Multiple buildings on the campus had to be factored in, including; Norton Center of the Arts as the debate hall, Hazelrigg Gym, in Sutcliffe Hall became the Media Filing Center, Performance Gym was transformed into Spin Alley, and Combs Center served as the Accreditation Center. Additionally, 50 outdoor stand-up areas for media interviews and reporting in front of the Norton Center for the Arts required Wi-Fi.
The scope of the project was monumental, even with ample lead time, but as all the buildings were actively used by the school, the plans for implementation of the network, workstations, phones and other supporting equipment for wired and wireless could not be installed until the final weeks—and, in some cases—hours leading up to the debate. One advantage was being able to begin the installation of cabling in August.
Jeff Byers, one of three Cisco SLED systems engineers that worked on the project stated, “boice.net did an excellent job supporting the Centre College debate. I was impressed at every stage of the project. The design and project management started well in advance of the debate and was top notch. The quality of the engineering team that setup and ran the equipment for the debate was outstanding. All these things were impressive, but what really blew me away was the boice.net team’s commitment to customer success and the success of the project.”
Products and Solutions:
VMware ESXi 5
Cisco Nexus 5548 switches
CISCO ISE identity Services Engine
Cisco ASR 1004 CUBE Routers
Cisco 3600 series Clean Air Access Points
Cisco Unified Communications Manager
Cisco Phones (6921, 8945 models)
Cisco ASA5525-X Firewalls
Cisco 3925 ISRG2 Routers
Cisco Prime NCS
Cisco Prim LMS
Panduit cabling and patch panels
The Weeks, Days, and Hours Leading Up to the Debate
During the brief, four-week implementation time, boice.net’s 12-person on-site team installed more than 1,000 phones, 513 workstations, 100 network access points, 2000 wired network points and multiple 10GB links to support the needs of both campaigns, the U.S. Secret Service, the Commission on Presidential Debates, and 3200 credentialed media personnel-representing 40 countries. The event network had the capacity to support approximately 4,000 wireless devices simultaneously. The interim data center supporting this separate infrastructure was erected in 14 X 20 foot custodial closet, commandeered by the college’s IT staff to hold the racks and equipment necessary to connect five buildings across campus.
Security played a major role in how the network access was deployed. Each campaign required total separation and privacy from the other for both their wired and wireless access. Separate networks were also established for Centre College volunteers and vendors, the Secret Service, state and local police, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Boice.net was also put in charge of monitoring network security. Several media had specialty equipment that wouldn’t support the security protocols, requiring accommodation. Cisco IPS and botnet traffic filters were used to isolate viruses, helping the media clean up their equipment. Boice.net was also told to police all things 2.4 spectrum. Interference was detected from news media that came prepared with their own Mi-Fi setups, and continuous transmitter microwave devices that operate in the same spectrum. The boice.net team was able to efficiently correct all issues prior to the start of the debate.
Examples of last-minute requests included a media company that needed a dedicated circuit in a specific place, still photographers who needed special setups for camera gear and network equipment, additional phones and connectivity for media and provisioning dedicated access for fixed IP. Many of the requests required the boice.net team to move gear, phones, switches, and access points. Thankfully, the network had been designed with the flexibility that allowed the boice.net team to accommodate all requests quickly and seamlessly.
About 10 days prior to the event, the college invited 300 students to a “Break the Network” event designed to test the design and resiliency of the network in the Media Filing Center. The students brought laptops and mobile devices and used the installed phone systems to ramp up volume. They were encouraged to put the network to the test, as well as to make phone calls simultaneously to see what would break. For several international students, it was the first time they’d be able to speak to their families at home in months. A handful of issues were found and fixed and never reappeared during the media’s use of the systems.
In all, the boice.net team spent approximately 1500 hours in meeting, designing and setting up the entire network infrastructure used during the debate held on one night—the evening of October 11, 2012.
When asked by C-Span about the execution of the event, Centre College President, John A. Roush stated, “We did some things with technology today that took this debate and the whole process of democracy to points all across the world.”
“I want to thank the boice.net team for everything they did last week and the weeks (and months) leading up to the debate. Everyone boice.net brought on board did everything asked and not once did I feel that anyone was treating this as just another job. I’ve developed enormous respect for the knowledge and professionalism of each and every member of the team,” said Shane Wilson, Director of Information Technology Services and Coordinator of Network Services, Centre College, “No other team would have done as well.”
The Day After
The next morning, both the Centre College IT staff and boice.net team arrived to tear down an infrastructure that had taken months to design and erect. The college homecoming was a week away and the mandate was to restore order as quickly as possible. But what takes seemingly forever to go up, comes down much more quickly. The work to disassemble the network equipment, box it back up to store it, began at 8 a.m. and was completed by 4 p.m. that afternoon.
Centre College President, John A. Roush, sent an email stating, “The value of what we accomplished with our Vice Presidential Debate is very hard to measure, though we will make an attempt to do so. What I can be sure of is that our College represented itself, our City and County, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and our Nation with competence, style, grace, and warmth. So, thank you!”
What’s Next for Centre College
boice.net’s work is not over. Nearly all of the equipment purchased for the debate will now be installed to upgrade the network and telecommunications system at Centre College. From switches to firewalls to wireless controllers, the equipment will be put to good use with the expertise of the boice.net team leading the way.
“We are extremely honored to work with Centre College in the design and implementation for such a high-exposure event. This experience was a true testament of what a partnership should look like. Centre college and their IT team was very inclusive of our team every step of the way which was a very big component of the success of a project,” said Account Manager, Eddie Goff. “I am very proud of the boice.net team. Everyone from the president to each engineer to the help desk showed true commitment and put in countless hours to ensure everything came out flawlessly.”
Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, Kentucky. It remains the smallest college in the smallest town ever to host a general election debate. The successful execution of Thrill in the ‘Ville II carries forth what could just become a tradition requiring an encore during future elections.Featured Articles