Making the grade on price and performance
Powerful, low-cost solutions from Dell and Citrix create a cutting-edge infrastructure for teachers, students, and even parents at Beacon City Schools
Challenge: Provide networked resources and online access for teachers and students in a technologically advanced school district with limited funds
Solution: Implement a data, voice, and video network using 10 DellTM PowerEdgeTM 2500 servers, nine Dell PowerEdge 2600 servers, and four Dell PowerEdge 4600 servers running Citrix® MetaFrame XPTM enterprise server software; 375 Dell DellTM GX50 desktop computers; 25 Dell OptiPlexTM C610 notebook computers; two Dell PowerVaultTM 211S storage arrays; and one PowerVault 128T tape backup system
Benefit: A low-cost, expandable solution gives users flexible access to educational resources, e-mail, and the Web from any client inside or outside the district's seven schools; increased productivity for faculty and students enables a dramatically enhanced learning experience
Although it is a neighbour to New York City, Beacon is a small city with 3,600 students in seven schools. When the district recently opened its new high school for roughly 1,000 students, administrators knew which high-tech amenities they wanted: data, voice, and video capabilities in all classrooms; online access for teachers, students, and parents; and multimedia production and presentation facilities. Administrators also knew they wanted to expand those capabilities to the rest of the district. What they did not know, however, was whether they could afford the progressive educational tools that would put their school district at the leading edge of technology.
So when administrators put the project up for bid, they were surprised to receive a cost-effective proposal from Dell that covered the district's wish list with two dozen servers, several hundred desktop and notebook computers, storage and backup devices, Citrix® server software, and integration services from a local DellTM partner.
"Dell came forward with a solution that was economical, expandable, and reliable," says Vito DiCesare, superintendent of schools for the Beacon City School District. "Dell was willing to put its reputation and resources into the project to prove that the company was not only credible and dependable, but it was going to guarantee that the solution would work—and Dell delivered on that promise."
Although Beacon entertained a competing bid from IBM, it found the Dell-Citrix solution much more compelling. "My job as superintendent is to provide students with the best possible educational program for the best possible price," DiCesare says. "Dell's solution was strong and relatively inexpensive, and the support was consistent and appropriate. When I presented Dell's plan to the Board of Education, the competition was not even close."
Dell and Citrix get high marks for affordability, flexibility
The core of the district's technology infrastructure resides in the new Beacon High School, which opened in September 2002. With the help of Dell and its integration partner, TekConnect, DiCesare and the district's IT leaders designed and built a network operations center that houses 23 Intel® Celeron® processor-based Dell PowerEdgeTM 2500, 2600, and 4600 servers running Citrix MetaFrame XPTM enterprise server software. The Dell servers run the Microsoft® Windows® 2000 Server operating system and also support Microsoft Exchange 2000 for 1,000 faculty and staff e-mail accounts. Two Dell PowerVaultTM 211S disk arrays provide data storage, and one PowerVault 128T tape system provides system backup.
Citrix gives teachers, students, and staff Web-based access to applications and data from any client inside or outside the school, ensuring the district meets its critical requirement of flexible network access and resource allocation. For example, teachers can create lessons and give instruction in a variety of locations; the high school maintains five computer centers and provides network access from every classroom, teacher prep room, lab, office, and specialty room.
This setup also enables several unique initiatives, such as the student information system (SIS). Teachers access the Web-based SIS from any location and input their students' grades, which the system routes to the guidance department for approval and then uses to generate report cards. The SIS also tracks attendance and allows conference scheduling.
The server-centric architecture of Citrix has reduced client hardware needs and minimized maintenance costs. Instead of having to install fat clients loaded with drives and configurable options, the district purchased 375 Dell OptiPlexTM GX50 "smart clients" that can be easily managed from a central point of administration. As a result, IT technicians can spend more time in an educational role, instructing students on how to use the school's computer technology or helping teachers build class-specific Web sites that update students—and their parents—on homework, exams, and classroom activity.
"We've had to spend very little time and money on repair and maintenance, and our uptime has been very high," DiCesare says. The Dell-Citrix combination also saves the district from excessive software-licensing fees. Citrix allows IT staff to monitor and manage application use on the network, so the district needs to purchase a software license only for the maximum number of concurrent users rather than one license for every potential user in the entire district.
Network fulfills its potentialand students' potential, too
The affordability of the school's IT systems has made other technology initiatives possible. The school now boasts state-of-the-art television production facilities and an 85-seat lecture room equipped with networked computers, electronic whiteboards, and a range of multimedia devices. Students have used these resources and the desktop and laptop computers throughout the school to get more out of their learning experiences.
"Teachers have told me that the quality of students' work has significantly improved," says Charles Symon, director of technology at the Beacon City School District. "They are making presentations that incorporate Web sites, original compositions, information from their textbooks—you name it."
Over the next few years, teachers and students in the rest of the district also will have networked resources at their disposal as the district rolls out Citrix and additional client hardware to other buildings. No new servers will be deployed at those locations; application and data access will occur over fibre-optic lines that connect to the central servers at the high school. Overall, the plan includes far more technology than the district had originally thought possible.
"We are incredibly lucky to be where we are today," DiCesare says. "School districts typically do not have the kinds of resources—either intellectual or capitalto design and implement the incredible capabilities we have. Words cannot express how happy I am with Dell and the outstanding, cost-effective products and services Dell has provided."