Enhancing District's WAN Brings Technology to Students

With 30 different sites serving more than 16,000 students, the Puyallup School District ranks as one of the largest in the state of Washington. When Puyallup passed a technology levy that earmarked more than $7 million to upgrade its local and wide-area networks, the district's director of technology, Tim McKamey, knew what to do. "There were several issues we had to think about in terms of making our network purchasing decisions," McKamey says. "First of all, we were using a centralized, terminal-based network that fed into a VAX 11/750 minicomputer. It was pretty clear that we needed to make the transition to a client/server network with distributed intelligence in order to take advantage of the latest technologies. In addition, we had to look for ways to reduce costs. Our leased-line WAN costs were becoming exorbitant. By any measure, it was time to change." There were more than merely technology and cost-of-ownership issues at stake, however. Explains McKamey, "Until the levy was passed, the district's network was being used solely for administration. We had to find a way to bring the network out of the offices and extend it to the classrooms." From Evaluation to Evolution Puyallup district's Technology Support Center installed its first computer network some ten years ago—a VAX 11/750 was the central repository for information and applications. After a few years, the district installed six different WAN links and clustered several VAX minicomputers together for added processing and storage power. When the time came to move ahead, McKamey and his associates decided to go with Santa Clara, Calif.-based SynOptics based on technology and support assessments. The network presently spans seven sites, with plans to extend it to all 30 district sites over the next few years. Each location is equipped with a router, a file server running Novell NetWare, and at least one SynOptics LattisHub Model 2813 10BaseT workgroup hub. Plans call for as many as five separate Model 2803 hubs to be installed at larger schools in the district to supplement the Model 2813 hubs. Virtually all of the network traffic on the backbone runs on l0BaseT Ethernet; the exceptions are several Token Ring LANs running in the business education labs at the district's two high schools. Unshielded twisted-pair wiring has been used throughout. The network functions as a true multi-protocol environment that supports IPX, TCP/IP, AppleTalk and DECNet. Network administrators are now examining the possibility of implementing fiber and/or wireless links to further reduce costs and enhance applications access for users across the network. Steve Peretti, Puyallup's manager of data systems, also reports that the SynOptics solution has been completely reliable. "Since we bought our first SynOptics products, there hasn't been one case of failure. The hubs have performed flawlessly." Paying for Itself After changing to a client/server environment, the school district began to realize cost savings almost immediately. "For the first time, we've been able to look at our voice and data communications as one system," states Jeff Zuniga, the district's network systems coordinator. "We're running T1 links between the various buildings spread across the district—and those buildings are increasing in number each year," he continues. "By running voice over the network along with the data, we're saving a lot of money on WAN costs. The hubs basically pay for themselves after 18 to 24 months, when you consider those savings." More of the same is in store for the future. Over 90% of the approximately 250 network nodes are Macintosh computers. "Between now and 1997, the network will continue to expand rapidly" Zuniga continues. "Right now, for example, we have about 20 SynOptics hubs. In just a few years, we could easily end up with 200 hubs and 2,000 computers spread throughout the network." Putting it to the Test "Our goal was to bring information access into the classroom, and we're succeeding," asserts McKamey. "We've kept all the administrative users on the network, but now they only represent 30% of the nodes. The other 70% of the network is devoted to curriculum support in the classroom." McKamey is gratified by the positive results he's seen. "Thanks to SynOptics and our client/server network, technology is now becoming a tool that really matters as part of the educational process," he says. "And that's an impact we can all feel good about."

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.