Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Connecticut Town Lays Groundwork for Merged School, Municipal VoIP Network

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Technology planners in the Town of Enfield, Conn. say they have taken a big leap forward. Their effort may be exemplary of what municipalities can gain by upgrading their connectivity architecture with an eye toward VoIP. Save money and improve services: That’s the bottom line.

“Our plan was to merge the technology between the municipality and the public schools,” explained the town’s chief technology officer, Paul Russell. The two systems needed merging. Thirteen schools were running on a decade-old Cisco network, while the town’s municipal infrastructure operated on a far more sophisticated Enterasys network—in place since 2003. In total the systems touch 4,500 end users.

Beginning in February 2008, Russell and network manager Carl Merrick started looking for a viable alternative that could replace both networks with a single system. They reviewed technology from Enterasys, Hewlitt Packard, Cisco, and Force 10.

Russell said Enterasys won out thanks in large part to the town’s existing familiarity and experience with the product, and also because of the company’s track record of project management and product support.

Decision makers also liked Enterasys’ reliance on open standards. “With Cisco, they would have preferred us to buy Cisco VoIP products, whereas with Enterasys we have already looked at Siemens and Nortel as potential VoIP partners,” Russell said. “With open standards, it opens up our ability to use other vendors, which we see as a very nice component.”

Vendor selection wrapped up in May, installation began once school let out, and the system went live in August. Cost of replacement: About half a million dollars.

With an upgrade from 10/100 megabits to a full gigabit system, “there was immediate gratification for the end users in terms of the speed of file access and downloads,” Russell said.

With the network infrastructure now merged and unified, the next step in the project will be to replace the old Centrex phone system with VoIP—a move expected to be completed within the coming year. Planners say they are eager to give city workers access to the many benefits of next-generation unified communications, with a VoIP telephony system supported by the Enterasys infrastructure. Russell said that transition will likely cost another $500,000.

While VoIP capabilities should enable more robust service within municipal departments, Russell also sees it as a potential driver of economic development. He paints a scenario in which new and emerging businesses could tap the municipal network to save on startup costs.

The network could serve as a mini application services provider (ASP), he said, providing a data server with connectivity to Exchange, data storage, and disaster recovery—either through a direct wireless connection or through a VPN. Businesses could establish their own VoIP systems through the town’s telecom infrastructure.

“It’s a way for us to provide additional community services,” Russell said.

The new infrastructure also will replace existing T-1 lines with Motorola-based high speed wireless connections between civic buildings. This in turn will enhance the performance of Wi-Fi connectivity, which has been in place within municipal structures since 2006. Moreover, the Enterasys infrastructure is designed from the ground up to support and manage side-by-side wired and wireless networks efficiently.

In the more immediate term, the uniform networking paradigm between the schools and the municipality could deliver a range of functions that previously were out of reach.

“Because we can network between the buildings, we can set up disaster recovery plans between public schools, public safety, and the municipality,” Russell said. “It also opens up the ability to share information between all three of those components—things like video surveillance from the schools to the police.”

The schools also can use the common infrastructure to share financial data with the municipality.

In these recessionary times, the move to merge and standardize two formerly disparate systems brings with it other benefits as well. In particular, “it helps reduce support costs, because now we have expertise that can handle both the schools and the town infrastructure, as opposed to having two sets of conventions and standards to support.”

Previously the schools and the town each had its own independent tech support team. Today a staff of three network support employees manages a network consisting of more than 29 remote locations and over 4,000 networked devices.

The town isn’t quite there yet: IP telephony remains a few months away. In the meantime, though, planners are convinced their efforts to standardize the infrastructure between schools and the municipality will give them the running start they need to make the leap.

This article was first published on VoIPPlanet.com.

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