Illinois is deploying SD-WAN throughout its state-run education network

The Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology is upgrading its state-run education network, the Illinois Century Network (ICN), from MPLS to software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). The state consulted with Fujitsu Network Communications on the project and Fujitsu designed an SD-WAN solution using equipment from Silver Peak, which was acquired by HPE last July. Fujitsu declined to reveal the value of the contract.

According to Greg Manganello, SVP and head of wireless and service solutions at Fujitsu, the company acted as an integrator on the project, designing a solution to fit the needs of the ICN. Manganello said that Fujitsu believes there are two ways to deploy SD-WAN. One way is to offer SD-WAN-as-a-service. In this type of deployment, Fujitsu will not just design the project but will also handle all the upgrades and manage the entire deployment.

The second way is to deploy SD-WAN as an on-premise solution, which is what the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology decided to do. “Some customers just want to replace their MPLS circuits,” Manganello said, adding that Illinois is handling the installation.

The ICN project includes Silver Peak appliances that are deployed at each location with a centralized orchestrator. The remote appliance includes zero-touch provisioning so Manganello said it is easy for Illinois officials to install and maintain.

The five-year ICN SD-WAN project started in July 2019 and they turned on 100 locations in the first four months. Currently there are 130 locations outfitted with SD-WAN, but Manganello said that number could grow to 800 if the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology decides to upgrade all the schools and locations in its network, which is the largest state-run education network in the U.S.

Related: Verizon Business expands its SD-WAN roster with Silver Peak 

Although the project started before the Covid-19 pandemic, Manganello said that it wasn’t impacted by the pandemic. The state of Illinois used its own personnel to deploy the Silver Peak equipment and they were able to do it locally, working at their own pace.

However, Manganello added that the pandemic has put an emphasis on the benefits of SD-WAN and how it can help connect a distributed workforce. “Customers are asking about remote learning and work-from-home solutions,” he said. “We used to have to sell customers on the importance of a network. That is no longer the case.”