Three for the Price of One

Every school in the country is hurrying to upgrade its technological capabilities, but the computer and network upgrades often carry a hefty price tag. Schenectady (NY) City School District found a way to give its schools a data network while getting a new phone system at the same time. With the new network in place, Schenectady has excess capacity and an easily expandable phone system that will last well into the future.

The district had little in the way of data network infrastructure when it began to research its system upgrade. Some of the administration buildings had small local area networks (LANs). Few of the buildings were connected in a network. The district officials knew they’d need to do two things with the upgrade: Wire every office and classroom with a good, high-capacity network and wire all of the schools and administration buildings together.

"We had to make sure, as long as we were investing in this kind of upgrade, that we would have a system that could handle growth," says John Falco, assistant superintendent. "Internet access, video instruction, computer graphics, and animation will all put a strain on the system. This upgrade had to allow for added capacity and future network uses."

Addressing Office/Educational Uses

"The educational demands are a large aspect of any installation such as this," says Brian Hogan, president of New England Systems, the firm selected to install the district-wide network. "But the business aspects of the district must also be addressed. Schenectady needed to ensure that its network would have ample capacity and security for both."

District officials decided on installation of a network technology called asynchronous transfer mode or ATM. It is fast enough to handle all types of data, and it allowed the district to add a new phone system, connecting all the buildings at the same time, on the same network. "ATM is the technology used by the major phone companies to carry phone, data, and even video traffic," Falco explains.

The Telephone System

Schenectady has been paying nearly $40 per month plus usage charges on a per phone basis at the school. This is typical of Centrex services for school districts. "When you’re spread among 17 buildings, as we are, the only way to get phone services was either to buy a PBX system for each location, or to rent Centrex from the telephone company," says Falco.

With the ATM-based system that Schenectady chose from Sphere Communications, the same set of wires carries Internet, business data, and voice traffic. The network also allows computer-telephony capability. "You can control the phone on your desk with a simple computer program on your desktop computer," Hogan explains. "For example, when a call comes in, the system will pop up a window on your computer giving you the caller ID and a directory structure. You can drag the incoming call to another extension or to your voice mailbox if you don’t want to take the call."

The ATM system will enhance the productivity of the administrative staff and allow teachers to have phones on their desks.

Video Ready

The ATM system also makes the classrooms video ready without adding video cabling. All 17 of the district’s buildings are connected by a 622 MBPS ATM ring of fiber optic cable, rented and installed by the local cable provider. The district’s main administration building holds the majority of network’s file servers to make management more efficient. The network servers host the phone system, Internet access, and instructional applications, as well as the district’s business applications. "Each task has its own server," says Hogan. "Isolating tasks to individual servers will help in long-term maintenance and trouble-shooting."

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