Today's school classrooms demand something more than a legacy wide area network (WAN). The IT organization at New Jersey's Howell Township School District recognized this when Web-based learning tools and streaming video started to choke off its T1-based ATM network. It decided on a Gigabit Ethernet WAN from a managed WAN services provider.
"First, we recognized that our classroom content was becoming more and more Web-based, and as demand grew for that, it started taxing some of our operations," said Tom Aquino, director of Howell's Office of IT. "We had to start putting in terminal server applications to run our student information system over our WAN because we didn't have enough bandwidth to support email traffic or Web traffic. Our messaging system -- we run Exchange internally -- just wasn't able to send larger-sized attachments without it taking a long time to download."
When the school district started exploring ways of using more video content in classrooms and producing educational podcasts, Aquino knew that adding more bandwidth to his managed ATM WAN from Verizon would be too expensive. It was time for an upgrade for the district, which is composed of 12 schools and educates 6,800 children per year.
"The ATM network was solid. It never went down. [But] it was old and we just couldn't get any more speed out of it cost effectively. We did a feasibility study to see if we wanted to do our own dark fiber network," Aquino said. "The idea was to go to bond and build it out."
However, going with another provider of managed WAN services proved much more appealing and less capital intensive. The district went with a Gigabit Ethernet WAN from Optimum Lightpath, a provider of Metro Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet WAN in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut region.
Howell Township, which has 12 schools, 6,800 students and 1,500 teachers, had one major requirement for its new managed WAN services, Aquino said. The district wanted to continue using its legacy Nortel telephone system, so it needed to be able to trunk the schools' PBXs to the new WAN. Optimum Lightpath was able to achieve that through multiplexing.
"We have a 16-port [ MUX ] Multiplexer sitting in our host site and we have single T1 MUXs at each building," Aquino said. "All we had to do was program the framing."
The school district cut over to the new system in August, and the results have been good with the new managed WAN services, he said. With more bandwidth available from the Gigabit Ethernet WAN, the schools have been taking better advantage of technology they already had, such as multimedia learning technologies like Discovery Education's UnitedStreaming and Learn360.
"Now, we're starting to use those services we've always had to their full potential," Aquino said. "With a 1.5 Megabit connection at a school with 400 students and 45 teachers, streaming video over that kind of pipe just isn't going to happen. I didn't think a lot of the services we had were [being used] to their potential. Now [they] are, and we're looking to do things like streaming video for professional development initiatives. We can have a speaker come to one school and we can have other school[s] take advantage of that speaker by using Windows Media Server to broadcast it. There's a lot of good things we can start doing now."
Managed WAN services enable virtualization, server consolidation
The Gigabit Ethernet WAN has also allowed Aquino's staff to consolidate servers with VMware. The school district used to have 40 Windows servers spread throughout 40 buildings. With VMware, many of those servers have been consolidated on two centrally located virtualized servers.
"It's also given us some opportunities for disaster recovery," he said. "We're able to have a full disaster recovery site at one of our other buildings. With a Gigabit network, we can run full site-to-site backups. It's changing the way we're doing things. I know I sleep better knowing I have my student information backed up to another site."
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