"Super Magnet" High School Delivers Curriculum Over High-Speed Network

Dallas Public Schools faced several challenges when they set out to develop the data communications network for Townview Magnet Center, a landmark "super magnet" high school that opened in August. On one site, the college-preparatory Townview school combines six Dallas-based magnet high schools specializing in discrete academic disciplines from health and science to government and business. It provides more than 2,500 local students &emdash; of all ethnic and racial backgrounds &emdash; with software applications as well as access to CD-ROMs and the Internet.

The heart of the technology is a campus-wide, fiber optic-based local area network that relies on high-speed 3Com LANplex switches and LinkBuilder FMS II stackable hubs. This LAN connects locations to a centralized media distribution system offering videotapes, satellite programs and cable TV telecasts, and to a CD-ROM library with 14 towers containing seven CDs each.

The 3Com network also delivers Internet services and serves as the wiring for Minicom's ClassNet, a classroom screen- and keyboard-sharing and control system which enables teachers to observe students' computer activity and project it onto a large monitor for the entire class to view.

Teachers and students, who are using both IBM-compatible and Mac computers, can connect to any of these learning sources from any classroom within Townview's 375,000 square-foot facility.

"Real-Time Relevance"

"The network provides the real-time relevance that educators have been after for so long," says Ora Watson, Townview's executive principal. "It's a dramatic departure from textbook learning that lets students instantly obtain timely information from sources they could never have accessed before."

Dallas Public Schools for years has utilized computers to teach programming and other computer-driven tasks. At Townview, however, students explore a wide range of academic subjects, aided by the scalable network.

For example, students can connect to other high schools and to labs at Southern Methodist University to receive remote interactive instruction on a variety of medical procedures. They also can access popular applications such as Microsoft Office and Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia, or output documents to laser printers.

The network backbone supports 700 Macintosh and 400 Compaq systems, a server "farm" of 11 Compaq Proliant NetWare-based file servers with 10GB RAID 5 storage, plus 300 laser printers.

The 3Com network also is used by faculty to access student records. "Through 3Com, we were able to improve our network design and build a multi-platform environment with PCs and Macs when nobody said it could be done," Watson notes.

To access one of the 96 CD-ROM titles residing on Townview's CD-ROM servers, a student or teacher simply clicks an icon with their desktop computer's mouse. These machines are connected to the network via 3Com FMS II Ethernet hubs, which direct requests to one of nine 3Com LANplex 2500 switches housed in data closets.

The LANplex 2500 then channels the request to a high-speed LANplex 6012 switch in the media center, which accesses the CD-ROM server and dispatches the title back to users' computers. Access to file servers or applications residing on other desktop systems works the same way.

The LANplex 6012 also coordinates Internet and other offsite network communications using a high-speed router linked to Dallas Public Schools' district-wide WAN.

"3Com is giving us the performance we need to use our computing power to educate," summarizes Ted Almaguer, operations manager for the district.

Allows Intelligent Monitoring

For their switches and hubs, officials say they selected 3Com Corp., of Santa Clara, Calif., over competing firms for several reasons: the LANplex product family's Intelligent Switching Engines (ISE) application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) provide reliable high-speed Ethernet-to-FDDI switching; their virtual LAN capability offers secure desktop and server connections to LANs regardless of the port to which these devices physically connect; their ability to separate PC and Macintosh traffic on distinct FDDI rings; and their Transcend network management software's intelligent monitoring capabilities. "Our goal was to develop a network that would support both today's and tomorrow's classroom needs with minimal effort," explains Tim McDonald, president of Westech Computer Systems, the Dallas-based systems integrator that installed the 3Com network.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.