There will be no summer vacation for the dedicated IT staff at the Passaic, NJ School District. While students hand in their new Samsung Chromebook laptops and head out for the summer, the IT department will gear up to finish an impressive technology initiative that’s funding depends on a tight deadline of just one year for completion. Passaic has already rolled out a 1-1 pilot at the middle school and high school level, begun rewiring all district schools, built two new data centers and began planning for a private fiber optic network that is slated to be operational by 2014. The goal is to eventually implement a 1-1 learning environment district-wide, but in order to get to that point Passaic needed adequate backend support.
“We had to have a strong wireless infrastructure, which is backed by a strong wired infrastructure,” says Stefan Semo, assistant director of Information Technology for Passaic City Schools. “We ended up retrofitting pretty much all the wiring in the schools, one school at a time and installed high-density, high-performance access points throughout the schools and in the classrooms.”
The district also installed CAT 6e cables in every school along with new Intermediate distribution frames (IDF’s) and switches. The high-density access points and switching and routing equipment was purchased from Cisco. The district made the decision to standardize on one manufacturer to avoid future headaches.
Stefan Semo, assistant director of IT for Passaic City School’s, talks about the district’s infrastructure upgrades and the keys to success for this type of project.
“We are alleviating any kind of problems between manufacturers and we have a single point of support through Cisco,” says Semo. This helps the district avoid a finger pointing battle should any issues arise and greatly expedites service.
The district upgraded its Internet connectivity from 1.5MB to 10MB with the exception of the Lincoln Middle School, which was upgraded to 100MB. Once the fiber network is installed the district will have 10-gigabit connection between all Passaic schools and the two new data centers. Wireless Internet connectivity is now crucial since the district has decided on Chromebooks as its 1-1 device. Unlike most laptops, the Chromebooks live online and data isn’t stored locally, it’s stored in the cloud. So far, Passaic has purchased 5,500 of the devices with plans to add to its fleet.
The district built two new data centers to support its new technology and provide the capability for future technology initiatives. Rather than retrofit the existing structure, Passaic decided to start from scratch.
“There was one data center at the Passaic High School split between two rooms. There was a demark location with a bunch of routers and there was a server location,” says Semo. “This setup is prone to failure because there’s no redundancy. We ended up designing a brand new data center. This data center was designed on a raised floor [and] it was designed [with] redundant power.”
The district also has a secondary site or disaster recovery site at the middle school, which is a scaled down version of the one at the high school. This site is capable of taking over the entire district if necessary.
Semo knew the data center had to be as redundant as possible. It was from this perspective that he first began his design. The new data center is built on a raised floor, which acts as a trap for humidity, water or any kind of leakage from the ceiling.
“We designed a cover system that is going in very shortly and it’s basically a sheet of plastic that’s curved that covers the data cabinets,” says Semo. The cover system will also prevent water from ruining the equipment.
Both data centers have a storage area network (SAN) device that replicates data in real-time. Any of the data that is written at the high school is replicated at the middle school.
“Should something happen to this location [high school], the middle school is able to take