Liberty University: Delivering a Customized Education Network
How can you create a network that meets the needs of an ever-expanding number of students, faculty and university employees? Lumos Networks has risen to the challenge for Liberty University over the last 14 years.
Founded in 1971 and based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty is the largest university in Virginia, America's largest private, nonprofit university, and the largest Christian university in the world. It offers more than 380 programs to more than 100,000 students. The network has grown to match the growth in student numbers, and Lumos now delivers a custom, on-site network configuration which includes MetroEthernet, MPLS, SIP trunks and T1s.
Voice traffic is the mainstay of the university, to enable its students to communicate, to handle inbound inquiries and to recruit additional students via an outbound telemarketing service. "Call volume has been increasing 30-40% a year. Our call center has increased from a couple of hundred agents six years ago to closer to a thousand agents now," says Matt Fleming, Liberty's Manager of Network Services.
Customizing a Network for Education
That's one reason why Liberty needs a custom network. The university originally had call services from a range of providers, with different circuits to handle long distance, outbound and inbound, for example, but that soon became unmanageable – and costly. Matt comments: "When we had a busy situation like students trying to get through financial check-in or class registration, people calling in might get busy signals. There just wasn't enough capacity available." He adds: "It impacted our bottom line, ultimately, because we weren’t able to reach out to prospective and current students in the timeframe that we needed to."
Liberty wanted a way to bring all its call systems together, but many of its service providers resisted the change. Lumos was different, says Tirian Wilson, Lead Voice Engineer for Liberty University. "Customization means the ability to get the products and services that we want in the way we want to get them. The big draw for us was that Lumos provided both the physical circuit on the campus to carry our voice traffic as well as the SIP service that ran on top of it. They were a single vendor that we could work with to get what we needed: one pool of circuits that handled all of our traffic so we could get economies of scale."
That new configuration helped Liberty cope better with call demand at peak times at the start and end of each semester. "Being able to wrap everything into one pool of resources that isn't dedicated to just inbound or just outbound has provided a lot of flexibility and reduced costs for us," says Tirian. Matt adds: "Removing that pressure has been a relief, and it's allowed us to grow as a university. With the new solution, we're able to dial more and faster, which was really the bottleneck."
Turning Up the Bandwidth
As well as increased demand for voice services, the need for web based services has grown. That's not just about students wanting access to Skype, Netflix and Hulu, but about the imperative within the educational sector as a whole to provide distance learning and adapted learning programs online. Bandwidth demand is huge and constantly growing, and Liberty has upgraded from a 50Mbps MetroEthernet pipe a few years ago to 2Gbps now. When they're ready to upgrade again, it can be done with the flick of a switch.
Network security, availability and disaster preparedness are key issues. Liberty is obligated to protect student data under the Federal Rights and Privacy Act (FPRA). "What we expect is a circuit that is fast enough to not have any issues, to not have bandwidth constraints, not have latency, and secure enough that we're not running into challenges with other people being able to see the data that flows across it," says Tirian. "Lumos provides us with access to multiple fiber rings so if there’s a single fiber cut, if there is a failure upstream, it does not take all of our systems down at any one time."
That really works, as John Coleman, Lumos account executive for Liberty, points out. "There's a train track down on one side of campus, and a train came through and pulled down a fiber optic line that wasn't ours. Our services stayed up while all other services with the other providers ended up being disconnected."
Lumos: Focusing on People
As well as network reliability, Liberty rates Lumos because of their people-focused service. Having a single point of contact embedded in the local community – they even see each other in the grocery store – has made the business relationship great, and Lumos is very responsive to Liberty's needs, says Matt. "My experience with Lumos Networks has been night and day different than with every other phone company that I’ve had to deal with. I can get a ticket opened in minutes and get problems resolved very, very rapidly." He adds: "Being able to reach out to them and have that small company feel compared with some of the larger carriers is a huge benefit for us."
Liberty is also happy because of the cost of the upgraded network. "Nobody really had as good a solution for as good a price as Lumos was able to provide," says Tirian. "We were able to double our capacity and cut our phone bill in half. That was pretty amazing!"
About Liberty University
Liberty University, founded in 1971, is the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation, the largest university in Virginia, and the largest Christian university in the world. Located near the Blue Ridge Mountains on more than 7,000 acres in Lynchburg, Va., Liberty offers more than 450 unique programs of study from the associate to the doctoral level. More than 200 programs are offered online. Liberty’s mission is to train Champions for Christ with the values, knowledge, and skills essential for impacting tomorrow’s world.
- Network capacity under strain because of rising call volumes
- Need to pool circuits for voice traffic
- Increased use of distance learning programs
- Need to meet rising demand for web services
Lumos Solution: MetroEthernet + MPLS + SIP
- Custom on-site network
- Single pool of SIP based voice circuits
- 2 Gbps MetroEthernet
- Increased dialing capacity for call center
- No bandwidth constraints
- Reduced costs for Liberty