by Robert Pease
In January 1998, the Indianapolis Public School (IPS) District began a three-year $15-million initiative to provide five networked computers and Internet access to every classroom in the district. Enlisting the services of Ameritech and First Fibre Ltd. (York, UK), the district recently launched development Phase 3 of the program that, when completed, will represent the largest private-academic metropolitan area network (MAN) in the United States.
In the spring of '97, the IPS began looking for a fiber-optic solution to connect all of their academic locations together. That fall, Ameritech's Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) service connected the downtown IPS education center to about 25 buildings, the first of many more such connections between academic buildings that would be made during the next two years.
"Other vendors were considered," says Chris Ketel, vice president of business development at First Fibre. "But Ameritech was the only network provider that had fiber going not only by the main locations, but also to all of the schools that were located in the neighborhoods."
There are more than 80 buildings that are part of the IPS. So far, 58 of those buildings are connected to 11 FDDI rings that vary from 40 to 60 mi in diameter. First Fibre's CityLAN100 manageable singlemode-to-multimode fiber-optic repeaters are located at each building. The CityLAN100 units at each of the buildings are interconnected with the FDDI rings and collapsed to a computer room located in the basement of the downtown education center. Several Internet-protocol (IP) services, as well as IPX and Appletalk protocol services, run over the FDDI networked rings.
According to Kevin Hartzburg, a wide-area-network (WAN) specialist for IPS's technology delivery services, First Fibre's products are a standard part of Ameritech's FDDI service offering. Ameritech provided the singlemode fiber and First Fibre's CityLAN100 repeaters as a complete package to IPS.
"The First Fibre CityLAN100 units in each of the buildings are connected to 3Com Corebuilder 3500s which, in turn, connect a large number of Ethernet local area networks (LANs) to the downtown education center," says Ketel. "In addition, there are five Ethernet jacks in every classroom in every school that come back to the education center over the FDDI rings where three T1s provide central Internet access."
Some would say the system is rather elaborate for one school district, but Hartzburg says that given the services being provided to more than 80 buildings with about 22,000 network jacks, it really isn't that elaborate. Although $15 million may sound large compared to similar projects of size and scope in the commercial marketplace, he believes the amount is actually quite modest. It also includes much of the computer equipment being used, structured wiring, electrical upgrades, and the system itself.
"Less than 100-Mbit-speed fiber networks were considered, but when the cost of a mesh of 1.5-Mbit T1 lines was compared to the speed, capacity, and reliability of an all-fiber network, the costs were very similar," says Hartzburg. "So the decision was actually a no-brainer. The ability of the fiber network to cover the long distances between the buildings allows us to centralize a number of applications and enables us to reduce equipment, duplicate computer room, and support costs. Given the size of the network and the options available at the time, this was the most cost-effective solution.
"What we have done is take standards-based, boring, reliable technology, and installed it on a scale that meets our needs," adds Hartzburg. "What we're actually doing is responding to school-district needs and requests as efficiently as we can while staying ahead of the growth curve." By the end of July, the project's third phase will bring the total number of buildings connected to 81. The 81 buildings contain about 20,000 live network connections. As technology changes and new applications emerge, Hartzburg believes the new network will easily respond and evolve to meet the ISP's academic needs.