The Route Not Taken - With Apologies to Robert Frost
Two routes diverged with yellow cords,
And sorry that I could not both enter
And be one lone searcher, I could not afford
And pinged down one with gigabits more
To where it bent in the data center;
Then took the other, that always seemed fair,
And perhaps having the simpler claim,
Because it was connected and already there;
Though other districts were not aware
Had picked the local ISPs the same.
And both that morning equally lay
For student learning that could not lack.
Oh I kept the second for another day!
Yet knowing how lag leads to delay,
I wondered the packets should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two routes diverged in a closet, and I-
I took the route less traveled by,
And that will make all the difference.
Data Center Updates
Beginning now, and continuing this summer, Clear Creek ISD will be changing its data center model in favor of one that will position our equipment, and perhaps as important, our Internet connection, at a carrier neutral data center (CNDC). We are not the first district to do this. However, the way we are doing it and the pricing model for it is revolutionary.
There is a bit of a perfect storm at Clear Creek ISD right now. Internet usage is growing exponentially with a 1:1 tablet initiative, Latitude 2 Learn. That’s no surprise, but even with our current 1gbps connection, we have to be planning to be at 40gbps in just a few years. We pay dearly for that 1gb and would be hard-pressed to scale that up using our existing local ISP model. On top of that, CCISD is keenly aware of the need to prepare for disasters, having the relatively fresh memory of a direct hit from Hurricane Ike a few years ago. Mix in the opportunities provided by the changes in eRate, and we find ourselves with the need and the means to make a change. Moving our operations to an inland, carrier neutral data center makes sense for all of these reasons.
Smart Networks By Design
As a member of CoSN’s SEND (Smart Education Networks by Design) committee, I have had access to some of the most forward-thinking infrastructure designers and vendors in the world. By leveraging eRate and connecting to an existing fiber optic ring in Houston, we were able to get excellent competition amongst data centers in the region and Tier 1 ISPs. We also gained the option for an Internet2 connection through LEARN. We owe a debt of gratitude to Polly Gifford for helping us to make the “connections”- both personal and technical- to create a new methodology that our providers are embracing, as well.
We will jump to 2.1gbps immediately, add 3 more this summer, and engage a 10gbps Internet2 connection through a local university. Soup to nuts, we can do all of this and move three racks of key systems into a CNDC that is well-removed from the threat of windstorms and we’ll do it all for less than the cost of our current 1Gbps connection.
Thinking into the Future
The eRate funding changes lets us make many of the network construction and transport costs at a significant discount. An overall cloud-migration strategy lets us reduce our local data center (and power costs!) and move much of the remaining equipment to the inland CNDC. The wholesale Internet pricing at a CNDC was one of the keys to making funds available for the rest of the project, and our plans to scale these connections up in the future. Lastly, as I discussed with my team, instead of worrying about our data in the face of a future disaster, we will be able to leverage it.
There’s more to the story than can fit here, but stay tuned. I urge you to take a look at the real costs and options available to your district and you might find some better options. You can begin here: http://www.cosn.org/SEND but always remember to think at least 5 years into the future.
Though this is the route less often chosen today, it will certainly become the one more traveled.
Kevin Schwartz serves as the Chief Technology Officer for Clear Creek ISD, home of 41,000 students, NASA, and the Latitude 2 Learn 1:1 tablet computer initiative and he brings 20 years of experience in K-12. He is also Chair of the Texas K-12 CTO Council and actively serves on the CoSN SEND and SmartIT committees. Kevin is a frequent presenter on a broad range of education technology topics and is a consultant to school districts that seek transformational changes in learning through technology.
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