The Upper Canada District School Board needed to reduce its wide area network (WAN) traffic. Most of its 86 schools connect to the main office via 10 megabits-per-second (Mbps) links, and Internet usage consumed most of the bandwidth—downloading
files from the intranet could take up to a minute. To alleviate congestion, the district deployed BranchCache, a feature in Windows Server 2012 that optimizes WAN traffic to remotely hosted sites. It reduced traffic by at least 20 percent, which freed 2 Mbps
for other services. By using data deduplication, a file compression technology, the district reduced file server traffic by 50 percent, which resulted in more efficient bandwidth allocation and reduced storage requirements. The district estimates that it will
avoid CDN$2 million (US$2 million) over 10 years in bandwidth and storage costs. Plus, faculty and students get faster access to files.
The Upper Canada District School Board is responsible for the education of approximately 29,000 students in Eastern Ontario, Canada. The district has five urban centres, but is mostly rural in nature. It encompasses 12,000 square kilometers (4,633 square
miles) and employs approximately 3,500 teachers and staff members. The district uses its annual budget of approximately CDN$335 million (US$337 million) to help it reach its goals of providing a world-class education and creating a climate in which all students
have the opportunity to reach their potential.
||Microsoft changed the game with Windows Server 2012 by helping us do more with what we have. We plan to deploy BranchCache districtwide to support our educational goals and provide better service.”
| David E. Myers
Manager of ITS, Upper Canada District School Board
From its headquarters in Brockville, Ontario, and two regional resource centres, the board’s IT organization’s staff of 42 people manages the central data centre, which serves as the network hub. The annual IT budget is CDN$5.5 million (US$5.5 million). For
the whole district, the data centre supports a single Active Directory, a directory service for domain networks in the Windows operating system that provides a central location for network administration and security.
Upper Canada District School Board has invested in Windows-ready server hardware. It uses a mix of Dell servers and HP servers for its non-virtualized server environment. The IT hardware infrastructure also includes HP Blade System servers that host the
organization’s virtual machines.
Most schools connect to the main office through a wide area network (WAN) that supports data traffic up to 10 megabits per second (Mbps). These WAN links support Internet, printing, and file-sharing traffic. The district’s 86 elementary and secondary schools—especially
those in remote locations—experienced delays in transferring files from the data centre. Some elementary schools use fiber optic cable connectivity to access the WAN connection hosted by nearby secondary schools. “The WAN links have been highly saturated with
various modes of traffic,” says Todd Lamothe, Data Centre Administrator for the Upper Canada District School Board. “There has been a lot of competition for bandwidth.”
Staff, faculty, and students voice concerns about the bandwidth problems, which worsened in 2011 when the organization opened YouTube to the student population. The district is locked into a long-term agreement with its WAN provider, so adding bandwidth
is not an option. Even if it were possible, the district is operating in a cost-cutting environment and the IT organization could not afford the cost to increase bandwidth. “To add bandwidth would have doubled our costs,” says Lamothe. “Plus, we also have
sites where it’s not possible to add any additional bandwidth at this time. The carrier infrastructure just isn’t there.”
The IT organization used traffic shaping to mitigate congestion issues and prioritize traffic, but there was only so much it could do. The way the district stored data also slowed WAN traffic speeds. For example, if a teacher sent a file to students, each
student would make changes and save the file separately. “Each instance of a file was saved in each student’s location,” says Lamothe. “The storage load added up.”
The district sought ways to improve users’ experiences in opening files, working on files, and saving their work—tasks that were time-consuming and difficult. These circumstances hindered the district’s ability to deliver high-quality education. Internet
usage, in particular, occupied a lot of bandwidth. Users were having problems transferring files back and forth from the main office to remote schools. It typically took from 40 seconds to a minute for a user to open a 25-megabyte (MB) file. The district’s
use of inclusive technology to support students with special needs employs data-intensive text-to-speech software that uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology to scan documents and then read the words to the students. “Each student had to open
a file to access the content,” says Lamothe. “It took a long time.”
||Without BranchCache, we would have needed to upgrade our network at considerable cost. By adopting Windows Server 2012, we can avoid up to CDN$2 million [US$2 million] over 10 years in additional bandwidth and storage costs.
| David E. Myers
Manager of ITS, Upper Canada District School Board
In a typical scenario, an urban high school has a 10-Mbps connection to the main office data centre, and two elementary schools employ a dark-fiber connection to that high school. Elementary schools that are not using a dark fibre have a 10-Mbps connection
back to the data centre. A small number of urban schools have 100-Mbps connections, and around a dozen have very slow 1-Mbps T1 connections. The traffic of all district schools aggregates into one connection to the main office.
Altogether, there is a demand for at least 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) of traffic, but the WAN provider can only support 250 Mbps of total throughput. “The data centre traffic was consumed by board-owned and student-owned personal devices,” says Lamothe.
“We needed to support a growing demand for cloud services and open Wi-Fi.”
In February 2012, the district enrolled in the Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program (RDP) for the Windows Server 2012 operating system. Windows Server 2012 provides several innovations that enhance the efficiency of a data centre while lowering infrastructure
costs and increasing the overall availability of production systems. The improved BranchCache component enables organizations to optimize WAN traffic from Windows client computers to remotely hosted sites.
Lamothe realized that it made sense to adopt the BranchCache component because of the nature of the connections between the main office and the schools. The district’s Manager of ITS (Information Technology Services) was involved in initial discussions with
Microsoft and both wanted to proceed immediately with the implementation of Windows Server 2012. “Participating in the RDP gave us the opportunity to evaluate Windows Server 2012 features and functionality,” says David E. Myers, Manager of ITS for Upper Canada
District School Board. “We were able to get advanced training to learn how best to use BranchCache in our environment and make a business case for it.”
BranchCache has two modes of operation: hosted cache mode and peer-to-peer cache mode. With hosted cache mode, content at a branch office is hosted on one or more server computers, which are called hosted cache servers. In peer-to-peer cache mode, the
content cache at a branch office is distributed among client computers. The district intended to deploy both modes.
In June 2012, six IT employees began working on a two-week pilot program to evaluate the Windows Server 2012 implementation. The district used client computers running the Windows 8 operating system for this deployment, so it had to conduct compatibility
tests for applications on its administrative image and its academic image. Altogether, it needed to support 139 applications. “We had five applications that were incompatible with Windows 8, but they were older applications that have since been updated or
were no longer supported,” says Lamothe. “Those applications were not mission-critical, so we disabled them. We also discovered that we are in a strong position to deploy Windows 8.”
||On the student volume, we had 13 gigabytes of data and we reduced it to 8.9 gigabytes [with data deduplication], which means we need less storage space to host the same amount of data. The storage savings grows exponentially as we
deploy more sites because the common files will be deduplicated.
| Todd Lamothe
Data Centre Administrator, Upper Canada District School Board
Thanks to support from Microsoft Services Consulting, the IT organization was able to discover and mitigate issues that might have blocked implementation. For example, when it deployed Windows 8, it found that Windows Internet Explorer slowed down considerably.
“With the help of the Microsoft Services consultant, we determined what application was causing the problem,” says Lamothe. “We disabled the application and the browser’s response time returned to normal.”
To emulate the hosted cache mode, the test team created a virtualized environment with a laptop running a test Active Directory and the File Server role in Windows Server 2012. They reduced the port speed to create a 10-Mbps link to another portable computer
running the hosted cache server on Windows Server 2012 and to a client computer. To create a peer-to-peer mode implementation in the test environment, the IT organization shut down the content server and changed the IP range. “By using two portable computers
and forcing a reduction of the port speeds on switches, we were able to reproduce our schools' environment,” says Lamothe. “We saw improvements in optimizing bandwidth right away.”
Deployment to Schools
After a successful pilot program, the district implemented the Windows Server 2012 Datacenter edition to use BranchCache in hosted cache mode at two schools. Specifically, it deployed a hosted cache server at Almonte and District High School, which has
a 10-Mbps connection to the data centre in the headquarters. Two nearby elementary schools—R. Tait McKenzie Public School and Naismith Memorial Public School—connect to the local high school via a dark-fiber link. All three schools share the 10-Mbps connection
to the data centre, but only the two elementary schools, which were equipped with client computers running the Windows 8 operating system, accessed data from the hosted cache server. (The high school computers were excluded because the high school was already
into its exam period and students were not using computers heavily.) “The BranchCache hosted server was really easy to deploy,” says Lamothe. “In Windows Server 2012, the server registers itself in DNS and clients find it automatically.”
The district first enabled the BranchCache server role on the file server at Almonte and District High School. It then enabled BranchCache to copy SMB (Server Message Block) and HTTP content from the content server in the main office and cache that content
at the high school, which makes it possible for client computers at the elementary schools to access the content locally rather than over the WAN. The district had previously used a third-party appliance to store and manage the SMB- and HTTP-based file shares.
After a client computer requests and receives the content from the main office, the content is cached at the high school and other computers at the elementary school branch sites can obtain content locally. “We can serve all three schools with that server,”
says Lamothe. “We knew that by implementing BranchCache, we weren’t going to reduce the amount of bandwidth being consumed, but the mix would change.”
The district also deployed BranchCache in the peer-to-peer cache mode with a Windows Server 2012-based link to Pakenham Public School. The client computers at this location exchange cached content with one another so that the content is cached among these
local computers, which must be running either Windows 8 or Windows 7. (Figure 1 illustrates the district’s implementation of both hosted cache and peer-to-peer modes.)
|Figure 1 – The district deployed BranchCache in both
peer-to-peer (distributed) and hosted cache modes.
With Windows Server 2012, many tasks are automated. For example, site configuration is automated in the Active Directory. When a server turns on, it registers automatically. When a client computer turns on, it looks for a hosted cache server. If there isn’t
one, it switches to peer-to-peer mode.
To conserve storage space, the district used data deduplication technology available with Windows Server 2012. Data deduplication is integrated with BranchCache and offers variable-size chunking and file compression to help save storage, so branch offices
can free up WAN bandwidth. “With the data deduplication technology, a file is saved once, referenced by each location, and only the changes—not the whole file—are saved,” says Lamothe. “Students save only slight variations of the same document.”
Plans for Future Deployment
The IT organization is considering plans for a districtwide deployment of Windows Server 2012 with BranchCache functionality during the 2012-2013 school year. It plans to use the hardware that is already in its environment. All data storage and data
management functionality could be migrated from the existing third-party appliance to Windows Server 2012 file servers. The district expects that full deployment will feature a minimum of 22 hosted cache servers—one for each school that has more than 100 workstations.
It is considering using peer-to-peer cache mode for schools that have fewer workstations. In addition, the district plans to migrate its current DirectAccess deployment to Windows Server 2012 and extend the service to students for the first time. DirectAccess
is a Windows Server 2012 feature that enables users to access corporate resources such as email and shared folders from anywhere they have an Internet connection.
“Microsoft changed the game with Windows Server 2012 by helping us do more with what we have,” says Lamothe. “We plan to deploy BranchCache districtwide to support our educational goals and provide better service.”
By deploying Windows Server 2012 and BranchCache technology, the Upper Canada District School Board benefits from more efficient bandwidth allocation that makes it much easier to manage traffic on the WAN. It will realize significant cost savings by
eliminating redundant technologies and avoiding purchasing additional bandwidth. Teachers, students, and staff can take advantage of the faster bandwidth to participate in the modern style of working and the latest educational opportunities. In addition, the
district’s IT professionals spend less time managing and configuring the network because of improved task automation in Windows Server 2012. “We are ecstatic about the enhancements that we’re seeing with Windows Server 2012,” says Lamothe. “The IT organization’s
work is more streamlined, bandwidth is freed up, and we avoid storage costs because of data deduplication.”
Frees Up Bandwidth
The district will realize a significant savings by deploying BranchCache to manage bandwidth consumption at its 86 schools. For example, in its initial deployment of one hosted cache server at a high school, which serves two elementary schools, the district
avoided paying at least an additional CDN$500 (US$500) per month to increase the available bandwidth for those sites. Instead, it pays only for the WAN links to the high school and it owns the dark-fiber connection to the elementary schools. “Without BranchCache,
we would have needed to upgrade our network at considerable cost,” says Myers. “By adopting Windows Server 2012, we can avoid up to CDN$2 million [US$2 million] over 10 years in additional bandwidth and storage costs.”
||By using Windows Server 2012, the ITS department can help enable the Board to move closer to achieving its strategic goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. The product has exceeded our expectations and has given us
the opportunity to adopt the best technologies for improving learning.
| David E. Myers
Manager of ITS, Upper Canada District School Board
By implementing Windows Server 2012, the district will realize an additional cost savings because it no longer needs to pay support, maintenance, and warranty fees for the third-party data management and storage appliance. “We will save CDN$25,000 [US$25,000]
annually by using the file management and storage features of Windows Server 2012,” says Lamothe. “Plus, with data deduplication, our storage costs are much lower.”
With the data deduplication technology, the district avoids purchasing additional storage. When it turned on data deduplication, it lowered the data load by 33 percent. “On the student volume, we had 13 gigabytes of data and we reduced it to 8.9 gigabytes
[with data duplication], which means that we need less storage space to host the same amount of data,” says Lamothe. “The storage savings grows exponentially as we deploy more sites because the common files will be deduplicated. We can do more with the storage
that we have. That was just an added bonus. We turned data deduplication on and we saved money.”
Enhances User Experience
Teachers, staff, and students—including students with special needs who use text-to-speech technology—can access files much more quickly from Windows Server 2012 file servers. “With BranchCache deployed, it took only a few seconds, instead of up to a
minute, to open a 25-MB file,” says Lamothe. “Teachers were amazed at the improvement and how much easier it was to work. I watched their jaws drop when opening files. It was quick. They were in awe.”
Students will realize additional benefits when the school board upgrades its current DirectAccess deployment to Windows Server 2012. With Windows Server 2012, the district will be in a better position to add 3,500 special needs students as improvements to
Direct Access have been added in Windows Server 2012. With the new deployment, students will be able to work from home or anywhere that they can access the Internet using the same tools they use in the classroom. “By using Windows Server 2012, the ITS department
can help enable the Board to move closer to achieving its strategic goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020,” says Myers. “The product has exceeded our expectations and has given us the opportunity to adopt the best technologies for improving
Reduces IT Workload
The district discovered that many typical deployment tasks are automated in Windows Server 2012. For example, configuring certain components of Active Directory now takes only a few minutes.
“I was impressed at how easy and fast it was to use the enhancements in Windows Server 2012,” says Lamothe. “I expected more work on my end. At one point during the deployment, our Microsoft Services consultant requested that we change a few settings. I
said, ‘What about the next site?’ And he said, ‘No, you’re done.’ It was dead simple to deploy.”
Windows Server 2012
Windows Server drives many of the world’s largest data centers, empowers small businesses around the world, and delivers value to organizations of all sizes in between. Building on this legacy, Windows Server 2012 redefines the category, delivering hundreds
of new features and enhancements that span virtualization, networking, storage, user experience, cloud computing, automation, and more. Simply put, Windows Server 2012 helps you transform your IT operations to reduce costs and deliver a whole new level of
For more information, visit
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For more information about Upper Canada District School Board services, call (613) 342-0371, or visit the website at