For the longest time I have been putting off upgrading the network where I work. Sure, I have added new switches here and there and I have had a Cat 6 drop run here or there over the years, but for the most part, my network has remained the same.
Back in 2007 we had a massive bond renovation at the school district where I work. This allowed us to have new fiber run through our main building. Several years later we got a grant and I had some vendors run four new Ethernet drops to each of our classrooms. Those drops gave us the ability to add a wireless access point to each classroom and increase our coverage.
While other districts around us (larger and richer districts) were upgrading their networks to a 10 Gig fiber backbone, I was content to leave ours at the 1 Gig point. Even with the fiber connection to our ISP, they still provide less than 1 Gb Internet speeds to us, so what would be the point of upgrading (that was my thinking).
That all changed when I was in a computer lab trying to re-image some computers and I realized just how painfully slow it was. With a 10 Gib backbone to our Main Data Facility (MDF) where my FOG server (Linux base imaging service) was housed, it could speed things up immensely.
So I got to work with my E-Rate consultant about doing an upgrade for our district. E-Rate is a federal grants program run by the FCC. It used to be very robust, but in the past several years they have really clamped down on what is allowable.
The program is based on the number of free and reduced lunch students you have in your district. The higher the ratio, the higher a percentage discount you get for the services.
In the past, we used to be able to apply for E-Rate on things like our landline phones, admin cell phones, Internet, server licensing, etc.
These days we are only able to use the funds for the point to point wireless connection to one of our remote buildings and in the case of our current project, "internal connections" and "network electronics".
We are pretty lucky (that probably isn't the best word) that our district has a relatively high number of free and reduced lunch students. Enough that it puts us in the 80% discount range for E-Rate. That means if we are approved by the FCC to move forward with a project, they will cover 80% of the costs for that project. We only have to cover the 20% portion.
It is basically free money if you can get the approval, so why would you not at least try? You can put contingencies in your contracts that if the district doesn't gain approval, they aren't obligated to move forward with the project. This leaves them off the hook from a possibly large vendor bill.
Our project was split into two parts: Internal Fiber and Network Electronics. Even though our old fiber is only about 13 years old and still working great, the diameter of multimode fiber they used is too small to support 10 Gig speeds over some of the distances we have inside the building. That will require us to have all new fiber run to replace the old stuff.
Through the bid process I got bids from four companies with two of them being in the $17,000 range and the other two being in the $30,000 range.
The electronics side was a bit more expensive when you factor in the new network switches that support 10 Gig, the fiber GBICS, and the UPS's to keep them powered in the event of a blackout.
I received three bids for that with two of them being in the $100,000 range and the other one being in the $150,000 range. I know those numbers may seem crazy, but keep in mind we only have to pay 20% of those costs.
The 20% isn't insignificant, but luckily I have a business director who understands keeping our network updated is just the cost of doing business these days.
E-Rate requires you to use price as the largest factor in your decision, but you can also consider transition difficulty and past experience with a specific vendor as well. This means you could pick a vendor that had a slightly more expensive bid if they proposed a product or service that is going to be a headache to transition to.
Lucky for me, the lowest bids in this case should be relatively pain free in terms of transitioning, and I have positive past experience with both of the vendors.
I will be recommending the two vendors at our next board meeting and as long as they vote in favor of my proposal, we will submit the proper forms to the FCC. If the FCC approves the project next June we will begin a massive upgrade to the core of our network.
Here is hoping it is a busy summer for me!
Posted with STEMGeeks