School’s in for Cisco

Barry Burke, Cisco Systems Canada Co.‘s Ontario public sector manager, says it’s no surprise schools have become a prime destination for the company’s Internet protocol (IP) solutions.

“”Education tends to be a vertical market that

adopts new technologies,”” he says, attributing this to a drive for cost-efficiency and the natural tendency of educational institutions towards innovation. “”Students are demanding that new technology be available to them.””

Burke says Cisco Architecture for Voice Video and Integrated Data (AVVID) networks are currently driving data and voice services for 20 Canadian school boards, colleges and universities, including the University of Guelph which last week announced an installation that will include 7,000 IP phones and 12,000 data ports.

The IP service, to be installed over the next three years, has been in operation in one of the university’s residences since last fall. The IP network will gradually be phased in to augment and eventually replace the university’s private branch exchange (PBX) system, which has been in use since 1984 and reached its capacity two years ago. Ron Elmslie, director of Computing and Communications services for the university, says the shift was necessary in light of the coming “”double cohort,”” the group of grade 12 and 13 students that will simultaneously enter post-secondary programs next year as Ontario cuts the grade 13 year from its curriculum.

“”The demographics would indicate this isn’t a blip — it will be a continuing bump,”” Elmslie said.

He added the university looked at upgrading the PBX network, but since the data network would also have to be upgraded, a common installation made more sense.

“”Historically, you tend to have one support group for the data side and one for the voice,”” he says. “”We were able to combine them so if that if there’s a problem, you go to one phone number.””

Burke says his customers have been realizing management and maintenance savings of between 30 and 40 per cent compared to the administration of separate networks for data and voice. Elmslie and Jeff Zabudsky, dean of technology and curriculum innovation at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology – another Cisco customer — note that the savings are mostly long term. In fact, the $300 initial outlay for an IP phone is much higher than for a traditional PBX phone, which costs about $60. Elmslie says the University of Guelph is aiming to defer most of the cost of the phones until later in the three-year implementation, when their price is expect to fall.

Zabudsky notes there are savings with IP that go beyond management and maintenance, including those from phone calls made by NAIT teachers consulting overseas.

“”It’s much more economical to dial in from a hotel to a local Internet service provider that to make long-distance calls,”” he says. Zabudsky says NAIT will have 300 Cisco IP phones (and the accompanying network) installed at its new Centre for Information and Communications Technology for the start of the coming school year, and has plans to transition all its campus facilities to IP.

But cost is not the whole story, according to Burke. He says students are already using the phones to view staff and student directories and course information and to browse the Internet.

“”Moving forward into the future, the network is offering the opportunity to use other applications all from what used to be called the phone,”” he says. “”And when students graduate, they’re expected to know those technologies because they will be in the workplace.””

“”There’s a great need on the part of industry for people that are right current and up to date,”” adds Zabudsky. “”We felt that IP telephony was going to be the way of the future; everything is going to data.””

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