During the U.S. vice presidential debate last fall, millions of viewers saw a stage with two politicians and a moderator on their televisions. Behind the scenes, a small Kentucky college had to build a temporary network deployment that could support two presidential campaigns, a U.S. Secret Service contingent and more than 3,000 reporters.
When Centre College in Danville, Ken., was selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates to host the vice presidential debate, it turned to Boice.net, a New Albany, Ind.-based IT solutions provider for help with building a temporary, but robust, network to support the thousands of visitors who participated in the event.
The project included converting a custodial closest into a temporary data center to hold the racked equipment that would deliver services to the five college buildings involved in the event.
"The tough part was that Centre is an active college that was actually in session, so we were trying to set everything up without impacting students and the academics," said Bill Hall, president of Boice, a Cisco Systems partner. "We were trying to get this up and going in a short time window and then get it de-installed quickly so students could get back to their normal routine."
Boice had to wait until the few weeks before the event to start the network deployment, but it worked for months before that to help the school design and plan the network. The school started dropping cable in August, nearly four months before the debate.
Boice ultimately installed Cisco infrastructure to support the debate, including Nexus 5548 switches, Unified Computing System (UCS) servers running VMware ESXi 6, ASR 1004 routers, ASA 5525-X firewalls and 3925 ISR-G2 routers. For wireless LAN services, Boice installed 100 Aironet 3600 series access points. The debate commission also required wired phone services for the campaigns and the media, so Boice installed 1,000 Cisco IP phones, both 6921 and 8945 models, with Cisco Unified Communications Manager running on the UCS servers.
To manage and secure access to the network, Boice installed Cisco's 802.1x-based Identity Services Engine (ISE) and the Cisco Prime Network Control System (NCS). Boice also set up a temporary, on-site network operations center, where engineers used Cisco Prime LAN Management Solution to manage and monitor the network.
Boice had the network up and running two days before the debate and kept it in production until the morning after the debate to allow the media to wind down its coverage of the event. A dozen engineers, specifically credentialed by the Secret Service, remained on-site during the debate to manage and monitor the network.
Network segmentation and access control were critical for the debate network, especially because the two presidential campaigns required privacy from each other. Also, the Secret Service, state and local police, the Department of Homeland Security and the debate commission all needed isolated network access. The policy engine in Cisco ISE was integral to controlling these varying access requirements, Hall said.
One key issue during the debate was supporting more than 4,000 mobile devices that were authorized for the network. Hall and his team had to use Cisco Prime and handheld spectrum analyzers to track down media professionals who were generating interference with Mi-Fi setups and microwave transmissions that operate in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. Engineers were able to preserve performance and availability of wireless services by asking those users to turn off their devices.
All of the equipment that Centre College deployed for the debate network will be repurposed for a refresh of the college's network, Hall said. That refresh is ongoing.
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