School infrastructure project: ConvergeOne upgrades aging data center- Valutrics

ConvergeOne, a communications service provider, is overhauling a Los-Angeles-area school district’s IT infrastructure, a project that could help the system bring in tens of millions of dollars in state aid.

The Eagan, Minn., company began its work with the Montebello Unified School District in June 2016. A key impetus for the school infrastructure project, which is valued at $25 million, was the district’s aim to replace its pen-and-paper student attendance system with an online attendance application. The school sought automated attendance-taking to better identify truancy and develop an intervention plan for students who consistently miss classes. In addition, the schools in the district had been taking attendance once a day in the morning, which meant that students missing the roll call due to medical appointments, for example, would be counted as absent even if they attended the remainder of the day. The attendance application, in contrast, would let administrators take attendance during every period and document whether a student met the state’s threshold for attendance.

Better attendance is critical for schools that depend on state aid, which is provided largely on the basis of average daily attendance. At Montebello, even a 2% to 3% improvement in attendance could result in a boost upward of $30 million in state aid over the course of five years, noted Tim Femister, director of solutions and offer delivery at ConvergeOne. That projection is based on the $304 million in state aid the school district received for the 2016 to 2017 school year — nearly 90% of Montebello’s funding.

But to see increased attendance and state aid, the school district would need to retool its data center, which lacked the IT infrastructure to support the attendance application. The school wanted to install Edupoint’s attendance application as an add-on to its existing Synergy Student Information System.

“The data center couldn’t enable it,” Femister said.

He said much of the equipment in the data center had reached end-of-support status, meaning manufacturers would no longer fix bugs, replace hardware or help remediate issues. The load balancer, for example, could only be supported through parts sourced via eBay or similar sites.

“Other equipment was old equipment, but more importantly undersized for how the network was currently being used,” Femister said.

The core network — core switches, firewall, content filter and core router — were all over-utilized and/or underperforming with respect to the amount of traffic attempting to flow through it, Femister said. In addition, the data center’s uninterruptible power supply was inadequate to support it, he added.

Putting the school infrastructure project into action

ConvergeOne met with the school district’s IT team, hosting workshops and conducting an assessment of the district’s IT infrastructure. The discussions led to a plan of action and the first phase of the school infrastructure project, which focused on breathing new life into Montebello’s aging data center.

The new infrastructure included Cisco’s HyperFlex hyper-converged infrastructure, Unified Computing System servers and Nexus 9000 Series switching technology. Cisco also provided software under its Cisco ONE licensing program for data centers. ConvergeOne’s partner ecosystem on the school project also included F5 Networks for load balancing, iBoss for content filtering, APC for power and cooling, Quantum Corp. for backup, VMware for virtualization and Veeam Software for virtualization management.

On the application side, Microsoft Office 365 was deployed to provide email and office productivity applications for teachers and administrative staff districtwide. Chromebooks are also in the technology upgrade mix.

IT project funding

Customers in the education vertical market typically operate on tight budgets, which make large-scale school infrastructure projects a challenge.

In Montebello’s case, the district’s IT project funding stems from a $300 million bond measure, which voters approved in June 2016 by a 77% to 23% margin. According to the school district, projects authorized to receive funding from the bond range from classroom renovation to building access improvements in addition to IT systems and network expansion.

The bond provides funding outside of the district’s budget, which has been a point of contention in recent months. Facing budget cutbacks, the district announced school employee layoffs in March 2017, sparking a student walkout. The district has since rescinded some of the layoffs.

The next phase

The major data center upgrades were completed in Fall 2016. With the data center technology bottleneck removed, ConvergeOne has moved on to extending the tech refresh to individual schools. Femister said the company is now upgrading the campus core switches and installing local servers at each school site.

“They are planning to upgrade all of the legacy access switches and wireless access points,” he said, noting the effort will also include the installation of “net- new access points to provide pervasive coverage.”

As for end-user computing, the school district is upgrading teacher laptops and is exploring its student device program, Femister noted. He said the student device initiative is still in the exploration phase and will most likely be addressed once Montebello’s network has been upgraded.