Colorado Schools Take Advantage of Flexible Network Strategy

Colorado Schools Take Advantage of Flexible Network Strategy

The Jefferson County School District in Colorado supports a geographical region of roughly 700 square miles. For efficient communication within and between the school sites, the district began an aggressive networking program in 1992. 

The district is the largest in Colorado. It offers online instruction capabilities via the computer network to provide improved courseware comprehension and familiarity with the expanding information technology field. Part of the curricula includes training in application-specific areas, providing students with the skills necessary to compete in the high-technology job market. 

Networking has also allowed the district to revamp its financial system and begin installing human resources applications. For example, in the near future the district plans to update student attendance in real time from stations in the classrooms. 

Jim Tully, Jefferson County School District administrator said that a 1995 districtwide, five-year plan addresses five areas: instructional technology, student information, business administration, network support, and professional development. 

"We have helped the school board and community to understand the need for this system. Our kids are coming from a multimedia society. We must have it in the schools for them to advance in this high technology world," he says. 

The Challenge

Pat Leonard, network administrator for the Jefferson School District, was charged with the dual projects of setting up campus-wide LANs and connecting all campuses with a wide area network (WAN). Most campuses have several buildings that require individual network systems supporting workgroups with applications that include administrative, library database and teaching aids. The buildings are inter-connected with fiber cables. 

Leonard's varied career as both a math teacher and network administrator offers him a deep understanding of both classroom needs and technology. Leonard wanted a turnkey solution that would seamlessly integrate the 147 campuses and school sites, averaging 400 network devices per site utilizing existing twisted-pair cabling and taking advantage of fiber's extended range for connecting campus buildings. 

The Solution

In 1992 Leonard worked with Ten Communications of Monument, Colo. to develop a LAN. Ten Communications recommended a solution that fit the organization's needs, drawing heavily on a set of stackable hubs and concentrators from Garrett Communications (Fremont, Calif.). Garrett offered a unique and economical combination of mix-and-match stackable concentrators and hubs with a flexible "bonus port" option that allowed the components to be configured with any of a variety of fiber- backbone connectors, as well an expandable standards-based network management solution. 

The district began installing Magnum 3000 Stackable Hubs, each of which can provide 12 or 24 Ethernet ports, plus the bonus port. The scaleable design of the hub permits stacking of up to 20 units in any configuration to a maximum of 500 ports, more than enough to handle even a large school campus. 

To support the various fiber media in the backbone, they installed Magnum 3000X Mixed Media Concentrators, which have 12 slots plus a bonus slot, all of which accept independently configured port modules. Because fiber media standards were evolving, this was an attractive option; the district could easily add modules as funds became available later on, using any fiber media standard they desired. 

The Results

Garrett's Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) agent, supporting stacked hubs and concentrators, allows the school district to effectively control what has become a very large network. Jefferson County is still in the process of deploying this project, installing only CAT-5 wiring to support an eventual upgrade to 100Mbps Fast Ethernet. 

"The basis of our network strategy is 10Mbps and 100Mbps Ethernet, using fiber to support networking among buildings that can be widely scattered. Garrett's ability to ensure an easy upgrade to any type of fiber media was important to us," says Leonard. 

The district is currently evaluating plans to upgrade to 100Mbps Ethernet. They are considering the "classic" approach of migrating first to a 100Mb backbone, then carrying it to the desktop to support high-bandwidth capabilities such as full-motion video. 

Leonard, however, acknowledges that there are pockets of demand for 100Mbps at the desktop today. He plans to continue development of the 100Mbps strategy in the next school year, and will look at Garrett's new 100+10 solutions, which provide 100Mbps performance at the local level, but comes with a switch allowing them to link to a 10Mbps backbone. 

As the campuses get to know and understand their networks, demand for services and support has grown. The district has launched an innovative program, deploying LAN support teams consisting of two specialists in LAN/desktop computing, two in delivery of instructions, and one each specializing in student information, business systems, and help desk. Today there are five teams in place; long term, Leonard sees the need for on-site resources at middle and high schools where network resources are in heavy use. 

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This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.