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Lewisburg Area School District Implements Converged Voice/Data Solution Without Buying a Network

The Lewisburg Area School District in Pennsylvania was faced with trying to satisfy three different requirements, with the budget for only one. A new LAN-based administration application, that helps the school district meet federal payroll regulations, needed to be connected to multiple school district locations across a wide area network. There was also the growing requirement to expand voice communications in all of the schools and to interconnect computers in the classrooms, laboratory and the library for full online and Internet access.

EDUNET, a school district consultancy had been hired to install the EDUNET school administration application. Buffalo Valley Telephone (BVT) Company, the local service provider and a Mitel Elite Dealer, and Mitel worked with EDUNET to come up with a strategy that not only meets the school district's voice and data requirements today, but provides a converged voice/data solution that could support their future plans for growth and new services.

The central switching element in the Lewisburg network is NeVaDa (Networked Voice and Data), a solution from Mitel Corp. that combines today's typically separate voice and data infrastructures locally and across metropolitan areas using asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) technology.

The new NeVaDa-based network greatly improves overall administration efficiency: reducing payroll processing time from days to hours, purchase order processing from days to minutes, and provides high speed data connectivity between the school district locations.

Phones in every classroom enable teachers to dial 911 directly from a classroom, or call the administration office if necessary. Parents calling the schools can verify homework assignments, lunch menus, and event calendars directly via prerecorded messages. Parents can also leave a message for a teacher or administrator via the voice mail system.

Overview

The Lewisburg Area School District was experiencing the same problems that many educational institutions face today: a growing need to automate clerical and administration functions at the administration building as well as at four different schools, adding phones to 242 class rooms for security and improved communication, and bringing on-line the 46 different instructional computer systems in the schools. The cost estimates for running separate voice and data networks proved prohibitive.

Initially, Lewisburg did not consider combining their voice and data requirements due to the expected high cost. Consultant William Beck of EDUNET provided the LAN-based administration application and approached BVT and Mitel about 10 Mbps fiber for the EDUNET data network.

BVT and Mitel proposed a unique solution that would meet the school district's needs for advanced services connectivity, and provide a cost-effective solution to budget and resource issues: a central office-based NeVaDa network to carry both voice and data.

BVT leases capacity on the system to Lewisburg Area School District, while providing 24 hour management and system redundancy, options not available at customer premise installations without incurring associated costs. "This type of a CO-based system provides much more voice and data functionality than a traditional Centrex system, while offering less management headaches, at a price that Lewisburg could afford," said John Uehling, Business Sales Manager for Buffalo Valley Telephone Company.

The Applications

The EDUNET school district administration applications are designed to help school systems such as Lewisburg meet not only federal regulations, but help the district automate all school administration functions including student enrollment, attendance, report card generation, payroll, human resources (HR), finance, inventory and food service. "It used to take a week or two to process a PO request. Now it is just a matter of minutes," according to Ed Keller, Director of Administrative Services, "and before the PO is even requested, we can make sure the money is available in the budget."

The EDUNET system runs on a server based in the administration building, and serves as a remotely accessible repository of district information which serves all school district locations. Any authorized user can access student records, budget reports, or payroll timesheets without delay. NeVaDa provides the necessary bandwidth to make running the application across the NeVaDa network as fast as if it were operating on a single LAN.

On the voice side, teachers and administrators are now able to send and receive voice mail via a common system. Prerecorded messages enable students and parents to call for homework assignments, lunch menus, event calendars, and to check for early closing or late opening due to weather or other conditions. The system also queues incoming calls, rather than giving busy signals, a further nod to providing improved services.

Laying Out The Plan

Having completed the installation of the network backbone to support voice and data, the base network will be implemented in three phases, all of which will be completed in 1997.

  • Phase One Services
    Phones in every classroom -- 911 calling
    Homework Hotline -- Voice mail
    Late Open/Early Close notices
    Events Calendar
    Queue calls instead of busy signals
    School lunch menu
    Network established in each building
    Caller ID
    Sharing of Files, Applications & Printers
    Online Library Card Catalog
    Accelerated Reading Program online

Phase One, already done, created a network in each building with full access for every lab, office, classroom and the library to share files, printers and applications. The card catalog system in each school library is now online. Telephones are in each classroom and voice mail application is in place.

The system supports real applications: "We brought our Accelerated Reading Program (from Advantage Learning Systems, Inc.) online, so students can test themselves and track the results. It really is an enabling and encouraging use of the technology that benefits our students," according to Thom Fantaskey, Director of Technology, Lewisburg Area School District.

  • Phase Two Services
    File sharing between schools and classrooms
    Classroom computers networked
    Networked library card catalog access

Phase 2 interconnects the instructional LAN system together, enabling students from different classes or even buildings to work together across the network, as well as bringing the electronic card catalogue from each schoolís library onto the network for all students and teachers to search. This phase was completed in April 1997.

  • Phase Three Services:
    High-speed Internet access
    Home or remote access

Phase 3 provides high-speed Internet access and additional remote access options."By the end of 1997, our students and teachers will be able to access the many educational and instructional sites available on the Internet," said Mr. Fantaskey. "In one year we will have gone from having to send mail between schools, to watching volcan'es erupt via the Internet."

The System

Lewisburg Area School District already leased Mitel SX-2000 PBXs from BVT and were very happy with the system but needed to add more capability. The original investment in voice technology was protected by migrating the SX-2000 peripheral interface cards and telephone sets to Mitel's fiber distributed SX-2000 LIGHT, and centralizing the CPUs at the central office. The SX-2000 LIGHT provides the core voice communications capability within the NeVaDa system

Each school uses shared 10 Mbps Ethernet over Category 5 cable and had already installed either a 48- or 96-port Ethernet hub. These hubs were retained for use with the NeVaDa system. NeVaDa's modular architecture allows for the addition of switched 10/100Mbps Ethernet interfaces if additional capacity is needed on the LANs.

The central switching element in the Lewisburg network is the NeVaDa system, which combines voice and data at each location for transport over the wide area network using asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) technology. An essential component of the product is an ATM module, LBT-155, which was jointly developed by Mitel Corp. and Madge Networks, a supplier of end-to-end switched networking systems.

Using ATM technology, the Mitel/Madge module provides the capacity to carry multimedia traffic across a 155 Mbps fiber backbone. By combining "voiceLAN" and data switching technologies, Mitel and Madge have produced a high-speed network that gives users access to both voice and data technologies at the desktop.

BVT has installed fiber supporting OC3 (155 Mbps) to each school district building. The network provides very high bandwidth capabilities that enable the schools to expand the amount of data transmitted while guaranteeing service levels to support high-quality voice traffic. Of the 155 Mbps, 16Mbps of bandwidth is dedicated to voice (allowing over 250 simultaneous conversations to each school district location), with the remaining 139 Mbps available for future data applications. Less than ten percent of the data bandwidth is being utilized today.

At the core of the combined network in the BVT central office is the Madge LET-36, a product that supports both hub and switch functions. Smaller LET-20s reside at each school and at the administration building, providing network access for the SX-2000 and enabling LAN-attached computers at each site to communicate with each other.

The performance of the network is driven by the LBT-155 which resides in the LET chassis and provides ATM switching between sites at 155 Mbps. With NeVaDa, the schools can exchange data and files with the central administration building, and with each other -- all at speeds nearly a hundred times as fast as typical WAN services such as frame relay.

Installation and Usability

"The Lewisburg installation," according to Dr. Beck of EDUNET, "is the only time where the wide area network was plug and play." According to John Uehling of BVT, "The system has operated flawlessly from the moment we turned it up in November of 1996." The system was installed in a few days, with no failures during the install, or since. "We did not even open the spares kit."

Because NeVaDa is located at the central office, the school district was also able to outsource network management to BVT who provide complete "around the clock" operations and support services. We do not need to touch a thing," says Mr. Keller, "We just maintain our own LANs and servers, and BVT takes care of all of the phone and network services."

Critical to the success of the new network is getting people to use it. To help with the transition, Lewisburg holds four types of after-school and evening workshops for school system employees. So far, the response has been better than expected, something Mr. Fantaskey attributes to the school board. "The school board has been very forward-thinking by providing funds not only for hardware and software, but to pay school employees for their time during training."

The Future

Based on the multi-phase approach to implementing services, Lewisburg is well on their way to meeting their original goals. The administration application is fully operational over the NeVaDa network, as are the voice services. Caller identification capabilities will be provided for incoming calls, and outgoing call activity will be monitored to prevent any possible abuse of the system. By 1998, the system will automatically call the parents of absent students to confirm that students are safe at home.

Data applications offer even more potential. "Perhaps soon kindergarten students will get a username and password when they first come to school, and will be logged on until they graduate," suggests Mr. Fantaskey. Students will be able to exchange electronic mail from school to school, and may soon be able to browse their local community library as well. A local Internet Service Provider to handle Internet services has not yet been selected, but a single high-speed link to the BVT CO will provide Internet access to every student and teacher in the Lewisburg Area School District.

"The real benefit to the NeVaDa system for Lewisburg Area School District is not what it can do for us today," says Mr. Keller, "but what it will enable us to do this year, next year and on into the future. It used to take us two or three days to get a budget report. Now I get it in a matter of minutes. It is hard to put a value on having instant access to information."

Mitel Corp., Herndon, VA, (613) 592-2122, www.mitel.com

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.

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