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D-LINK® switching solutions bolster TEXAS school ditrict; ease budget concerns


Ease of Use Allows District to Cut IT Costs, Add Speed and Reliability.

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — Located about 60 miles outside of Houston, TX, Livingston Independent School District’s IT department supports more than 4,100 students and approximately 800 staff members. Users depend on the network and Internet connection for everything from day-to-day administrative communication to e-learning programs. “Our kindergartners are one of our heaviest technology users,” said James Dickens, Livingston ISD’s Technology Director.

In 2003 school administrators invested $40,000 in an ATM switch to fuel the district-wide network. However, the non D-Link® switch turned out to be a challenge. “I didn’t like the ATM set-up, because it took about three rocket scientists from Texas A&M University, plus a support team from around the world, in order to get the switch programmed correctly and make it run,” said Dickens. “If the switch failed, the entire network would be unavailable. We didn’t have the budget to purchase a back-up switch at $40,000.” Eventually, they decided to phase out the ATM architecture.

Another challenge was the school district’s rural location. They did not have the budget for onsite vendor support, or time to wait for IT personnel to drive all the way out to their site. “Hiring somebody to come out and fix or program a switch was not acceptable,” said Dickens. “The switch needed to be simple enough so a reasonable person can program it and make it do what it needs to do without having to bring professionals in.”

It was clear that Livingston ISD needed a scalable, high-speed, low-cost network switching solution that could handle their video streaming needs and be easily maintained by minimal staff.

Livingston ISD opted for a D-Link switching solution based on Dickens’ recommendation. “We went with D-Link because I was able to learn the program and do everything I needed to do inside the switches in just a few minutes,” said Dickens. “I didn’t have to go and take four semesters of some class to learn how to get around and manage my own switches.”

The district purchased 79 D-Link xStack™ switches over a four-year period, with the bulk of the switches being installed at the beginning of the project. Their local network features managed switches and a 10GB fiber back plane.

The xStack switches are reasonably priced, so Dickens purchased back-up switches. “If a switch goes out, there’s the identical switch all ready to go just sitting on the shelf,” he said. “If we ever need it, I’d just pop it in, and we’d be back up in 15 minutes maximum. With the other system, I couldn’t afford to keep a spare on the shelf.”

The D-Link network is approximately nine times faster than their previous ATM set-up. The 10GB back plane sends 1GB Ethernet to 11 locations. “That big back plane is very important to me, because when you start streaming video over T-1 lines or some other lesser infrastructure, four or five people can bring you to your knees in a heartbeat,” said Dickens.

To eliminate the time-consuming video download and scheduling process, Dickens purchased a 2.5TB server for storing all the video clips at the district data center. With fiber connecting the master switches to the desktops, teachers now stream video any time they want. They can search for a video and launch it immediately in class.

Even though the D-Link xStack switches were easy to use and reliable, Dickens occasionally leveraged D-Link engineering support during the initial implementation phase. “To be honest, the support we got from [D-Link’s] Jeff Horne was one of the reasons I went with D-Link,” said Dickens. “If I had questions about the equipment, Jeff was there with an answer. And if he didn’t have the answer, he’d get an engineer on the line and solve it on the same phone call.”

These days, most organizations have tight budgets and even tighter talent supply – especially in rural areas. “I’ve never seen a technology department that wasn’t shorthanded,” explained Dickens. “So you need switches that you can learn without needing a high-paid, degreed person on staff. It’s very difficult to find and hang on to those people. So if it takes a degree to run your switch, I don’t want it.”

Now Dickens is totally self-sufficient. “Jeff educated me initially, but now I don’t depend on anyone for support. That’s very important to me.”


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