When Richard Denk became director of technology for Ottawa Township High School in Illinois three years ago, lab computers, teachers' notebook computers and servers ranged from 5 to 9 years old. But rather than view the situation as a challenge, Denk saw an opportunity. "We were in the perfect position to look at new technologies because pretty much the whole infrastructure had to be replaced," he recalls.
With increasingly tight education budgets, infrastructure overhauls often are seen as luxuries. But if planned wisely, they can bring not only new and improved technology to the classroom, but also cost savings and increased value.
IT leaders from Illinois and Missouri offer an inside look at major IT projects — the virtual desktop infrastructure project that Denk led, a Voice over IP implementation at another Illinois school and a networked printer consolidation in Kansas City — that resulted in lower costs, increased efficiency for faculty and staff, and improved educational opportunities.
Case Study 1: Less Is More
Before presenting his idea to administrators, Denk determined the costs of a VDI implementation and made a list of projected savings. Despite the significant upfront cost, he was able to show OTHS' superintendent, principal and chief financial officer the long-term value of the investment.
"I now have three more labs, which the school probably never could have afforded," Denk explains. "So I'm getting more technology in front of the students."
- Storage area network
- Server farms
- Virtualization licensing
- DVD players
- Increased bandwidth
- Avoided hardware upgrades
- Reduced maintenance
- Lowered electricity and air-conditioning costs
The timing was important. Not only were the computers due to be replaced, but the school also was preparing to install a new security system, along with 10-gigabit-per-second fiber. The simultaneous projects "meant many late nights," Denk says, but the fiber upgrade proved invaluable to the VDI implementation.
OTHS also is saving money on computers in the long run. If Denk had replaced the physical desktops in the labs, he would have spent $60,000 to $70,000 annually for five years. Instead, he spent $200,000 on a new storage area network, server farms and virtualization licensing.
"I don't have that same circle of life where I have to replace a lab every five years," Denk explains. "If I want to replace a new lab now, I buy a newer server, which is a fraction of the cost."
VDI also reduces maintenance costs for OTHS, the largest school in the county. "There are only two of us in the IT department, and we were spread thin because we were constantly running to rooms to work on computers," Denk continues. "Now, I can add the software to my base virtual machine, clone it, and within 45 minutes, the lab is done. In time savings alone, it's phenomenally huge."
The infrastructure in the three new virtualized, 30-seat student labs consists of VMware Horizon View (formerly VMware View) software, two HP storage area network devices, an HP ProLiant DL380 server farm and HP thin clients. "The nice part is, I can run those computers until they die," Denk says.
What's more, Denk estimates that replacing desktops with thin and zero clients will save another $8,000 in electricity costs. He didn't break down the savings on air conditioning but expects that they, too, would be significant. "Thirty computers in a classroom generates a ton of heat," he says.
Case Study 2: Getting the Message
Voicemail isn't usually considered a cutting-edge technology, but for Johnsburg School District 12, it was one of several revolutionary changes.
The northern Illinois district had been using decade-old analog telephone systems in its four academic buildings and transportation center, and those fielded 1,000 to 2,000 internal and external calls each day. But if an actual person wasn't there to answer and transfer them, callers didn't get through.
- VoIP hardware and software (including Allworx mobile SIP client)
- VoIP service
- Upgraded switches
- Eliminated support
- Lowered overall telecom expenses
- Removed wasteful phone lines
- Increased staff efficiency
- Purchased using E-Rate funding
"Our legacy systems provided limited automated features, requiring support personnel to manually answer and route calls to their destinations," explains Director of Instructional Technology R.J. Gravel. There were 47 phone lines throughout the district, and more than half had minimal usage. Some lines were dormant, while others were perpetually maxed out, leaving frustrated parents with busy signals.
After researching Voice over IP technologies "that would ultimately lead to cost savings and better support our learning environments," Gravel says, he turned to Windstream, a network communications provider based in Little Rock, Ark., for help.
Because Windstream's Allworx system is sold as a complete solution, most of the expense is the service itself; the hardware and software costs are minimal. That meant the district could use federal E-Rate Priority One funds, which cover telecommunications service costs for schools, for the bulk of the solution. Windstream's sales structure also allowed the district to acquire a system with no upfront capital expense by extending the overall cost across five years, interest free.
The IT department implemented interconnected handsets and phone systems throughout the buildings, so faculty and staff can now use four-digit extensions to reach their colleagues between facilities. All teachers have external telephone numbers that direct callers to handsets or to voicemail. Through the unified messaging feature, voicemail messages are delivered to staff email accounts, where they're saved for 10 years.
Each building also is equipped with auto-attendant features, which has freed up support staff for tasks other than directing calls. Call forwarding allows staff members with assigned handsets to route office calls to their smartphones so they can be reached anywhere inside or outside the district.
"We weren't just looking to use funds more efficiently; we were looking to better support [stakeholders]," R.J. Gravel says of Johnsburg School District 12's Voice over IP rollout.
"We weren't just looking to use funds more efficiently; we were looking to better support faculty, staff, parents and community members," Gravel adds. "The return on investment has been tremendous."
Case Study 3: The Fine Print
Money might not grow on trees, but saving trees has proved valuable for Missouri's North Kansas City Schools.
In 2009, as the district was nearing the end of its copier contract, administrators were looking for added features — fax, color, scan-to-email, security — and a more efficient fleet of devices, explains Rick Gentry, director of purchasing. So in summer 2010, the district started a new contract and began removing its 2,000 inkjet and laser printers and replacing them with 165 Konica Minolta multifunction printers.
Since then, Gentry says, lower print and paper costs, plus reduced maintenance needs, have saved the district $150,000 per year. "Our student enrollment's going up, and we're cutting down the amount of printing we're doing," he adds.
When seeking bids, Gentry guaranteed that the district would generate at least 50 million images per year, so the vendors based their pricing on that volume. Gentry receives a monthly usage report so he can factor overage costs into the budget, if needed.
Printer Consolidation Expenses:
- Multifunction printer contract
- Active Directory
- Virtual servers
- Eliminated maintenance
- Reduced paper usage
- Reduced ink costs
- Increased staff efficiency
The cost per image is far lower too. The inkjets, which print 24 to 30 pages per minute, cost 20 cents per page, compared with 1.3 cents for the multifunction printers, which run 60 pages per minute.
The biggest savings, however, came from the reduced volume of print jobs. Gentry's team purchased Equitrac print management software. Before, people would send jobs to the printer and forget about them, "so we'd have a lot of waste," Gentry says. This change alone has saved $30,000 per year — and helps Gentry's team identify locations with the greatest printer demands, he says.
The printer consolidation saved another $120,000 in salaries for positions the district would have had to add to support a new 6,000-notebook one-to-one program, Gentry adds. Since maintenance is included in the Konica Minolta contract, three of the four employees who used to support the printers have been reassigned to the one-to-one program.