Three for the Price of One
- By Jane Lieberth
- July 1st, 1999
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 theyd 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
"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
youre 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 dont 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.
The ATM system also makes the classrooms video ready without adding video cabling. All
17 of the districts buildings are connected by a 622 MBPS ATM ring of fiber optic
cable, rented and installed by the local cable provider. The districts main
administration building holds the majority of networks file servers to make
management more efficient. The network servers host the phone system, Internet access, and
instructional applications, as well as the districts business applications.
"Each task has its own server," says Hogan. "Isolating tasks to individual
servers will help in long-term maintenance and trouble-shooting."