Simplifying operations with a universal technology infrastructure

California institution system partners with AT&T for large-scale network management

Over 16 years ago, the California State University system’s 23 campuses had independently managed networks. Each had autonomy over standards and used a hodgepodge of products. But leaders in the Chancellor’s Office knew a single setup across the board had potential to create a better experience for 450,000 students and over 45,000 staff members.

“The campuses had been wildly divergent in the quality and scale of technology infrastructure,” says Mark Crase, chief technology officer. “But to meet the demands of the 21st century, our institution presidents felt every campus had to have state of the art telecommunications.”

Massive overhaul
For such a large project, it was critical to bring in a strategic partner that could come in for the initial engineering and upgrade planning, and then continue to work with the institution on a project basis, says Crase. Due to its reach across California and known expertise, AT&T emerged after a competitive bidding process as the clear fit to engage with CSU as a common networking infrastructure consultant.

“We needed the technology to meet our mission, and AT&T had the experience to do the right planning and show us the right options,” says Crase.

As a first step, AT&T met with the network managers from all of the campuses to develop common infrastructure standards. From there, AT&T took on project planning and equipment procurement, installation, training and maintenance for all institution upgrades. Projects are typically done in phases of smaller groups of four campuses at a time and are completed system-wide within four years.

“One of the great things about partnering with AT&T is we learn and work together,” says Crase.

A long-term partnership
The original contract with AT&T was set for 10 years. When it ended, CSU initiated a new competitive bidding process and again selected AT&T. That was six years ago.

“We have had a mutually beneficial relationship because CSU and AT&T were both committed to making sure we succeed,” says Crase.

Not only are there financial economies of scale for purchasing the same equipment across all 23 campuses, but there were also unexpected operational economies of scale, according to Crase.

“When everyone is using the same equipment to the same standards, people can help manage networks for campuses they do not even work at,” he says.

The group of network managers that AT&T gathered has continued to operate as a professional cohort 16 years later. “The managers use the same equipment and know if they have a problem, they have 22 partners to reach out to,” says Crase.

The strength of CSU’s network has allowed for a shift to a teaching and learning philosophy that is focused on mobility and access anytime, anywhere.

“Our campus networks are second to none,” says Crase. “Because of the robustness of our infrastructure, our faculty and students have consistently reliable technology services.”

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