Jefferson County, La., schools aren’t the only ones benefiting from Cisco’s extensive IT experience. For example, South Carolina’s Greenville County Schools saved $400,000 by converging its telephone system onto its IP network. Alabama’s Mobile County Schools reduced the time it takes to distribute in-service training videos from two hours to 20 minutes. And Florida’s Ave Maria University saved approximately $1.5 million by avoiding unnecessary cabling in its campus design.

All of these cost savings were realized as part of Cisco’s Connected Learning framework, which helps schools build the IT infrastructure necessary to deliver an Education 3.0 experience for their staff and students.

This "roadmap" to success includes five critical components: (1) saving money by using technology efficiently; (2) investing in forward-thinking technologies; (3) using the network as a platform for delivering advanced educational services; (4) taking advantage of available funding opportunities; and (5) leveraging Cisco’s knowledge and commitment to education.

"Schools are always facing challenging constraints: saving money, investing, being prepared for the next generation," said Renee Patton, manager of worldwide industry marketing for Cisco. "This allows them to be more efficient, use networking as a platform, and leverage their economic stimulus funds."

Saving money

Schools can save precious IT dollars, Cisco says, by following three simple steps: converge, consolidate, and conserve.

"Converge" means to combine several different networks onto one secure, robust IP network. This lets you operate and manage all your systems through a single network infrastructure–giving you a great deal of control and cost savings.

Traditionally, schools have established separate, "siloed" networks for functions such as data, voice, video, clocks, alarms, bells, security systems, energy-management systems, and so on. But each of these separate networks takes time and money to operate.

Imagine the power of converging all of these disparate systems onto a single wire: Wouldn’t it be so much easier to operate your bells and alarms from the IP phone on your desk? Imagine being able to control heating, air conditioning, and lighting from a single district location. And, what if your safety and security systems were integrated to the extent that a fight in the cafeteria could be captured on video surveillance, beamed to the front office, and automatically logged?

A single, converged IP network is a powerful system, Cisco says. It helps ensure that you have the information you need when and where you need it, and it also gives you the capability to deliver voice, data, video, alerts, and more–all on the same wire.

"Consolidate" means to reduce the number of file servers and fully functioning PCs you’re running by "virtualizing" their computing power, or transferring this power to the network instead.

Rather than running 30 separate PCs in each of a dozen classrooms, all with their own separate set of operating systems and applications, imagine having thin clients in each classroom that can boot and access applications from a single data center in the district office.   

All of a sudden, your IT department moves from managing 360 separate systems to managing overall network transport. Your IT staff can update and standardize operating systems and applications automatically from a central location, without having to visit each classroom individually. That extends the reach and effectiveness of their often-limited resources.

"Conserve" means to save valuable time and energy by converging and consolidating your network resources. For instance, districts would realize tremendous energy savings by moving from 3,000 separate PCs to 3,000 thin clients, which use less power. Think of the money that would save on utility bills alone.

Investing in infrastructure

By investing in the right technology infrastructure, schools can benefit from solutions that improve efficiencies, such as video-based teacher training systems and digital media systems for communicating with parents. They can create next-generation learning environments with digital media, podcasts, and wikis to help students acquire 21st-century skills. And they can enhance safety and security with technologies that protect students’ privacy and prevent system infections.

For example, Horizon Charter School in Lincoln, Calif., reduced its communications costs and boosted its efficiency by replacing its old telephone system with IP telephony and implementing Cisco’s Unified Communications solution.

The move proved "more cost-effective than our previous telephone system," said IT Director Larry Monson. "We no longer have to bear the cost of a Private Branch Exchange, its maintenance, or a separate phone system, and we gain far more control" over communications. The school also realized greater network security and improved its emergency notification capabilities at the same time.

Using the network as a platform

Over the next three to five years, predicts Cisco CEO John Chambers, "the network will evolve from the plumbing of the internet–providing connectivity–to the platform that enables people to experience life."

What he means is, the network itself enables all of the transformations inherent in Cisco’s vision of Education 3.0 and its Connected Learning framework. The network serves as the foundation for a school system’s servers, middleware, databases, collaboration applications, business applications, teaching and learning applications, media, storage, and client machines.

Cisco can help build a network infrastructure that integrates Quality of Service (QoS), data security, unified communications, mobility, multicasting, and video capabilities–all customized to meet the needs of individual districts.

Maximizing funding

Cisco says it can help schools and colleges find and apply for appropriate funding sources to help pay for their ed-tech investments, including the historic American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the e-Rate, and other federal programs. The company lists a number of resources on its web site, with product recommendations mapped to available stimulus funds.

ARRA provides $650 million for educational technology in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, plus billions of dollars more for programs such as Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The e-Rate is a $2.25 billion annual fund that provides discounts ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent on telecommunications services for eligible schools and libraries.

Cisco also offers special pricing and financing deals for schools, including a Digital Media System Starter Pack that features lower pricing on 10 flat-panel displays, making it easier to get started with digital signage, then expand as needed; a 10-unit Eco-Pack of its 802.11n wireless access points; specially priced bundles of its Catalyst 4500 E-Series network switches; and the Cisco Capital program, which offers no payments or interest for three months on all Cisco hardware, software, and bundled services.

Understanding education

Cisco school customers can leverage the company’s deep commitment to education, taking advantage of programs such as the Cisco Networking Academy.

Established 10 years ago, the Cisco Networking Academy is a unique public/private partnership that is helping to prepare more than 800,000 students in the United States and Canada, and more than 2.7 million students worldwide, for careers in information technology. The program provides interactive, web-based learning with continuous student access to a no-cost curriculum, hands-on labs (using discounted equipment), and online assessments.

The program’s curriculum is designed to augment traditional technical education with hands-on skills training in the latest networking technologies. The curriculum has been devised to give students an understanding of networking theory and principles, and the practical experience they need to build and maintain networks, regardless of the specific vendor products used.

Cisco also is involved in the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an industry effort to infuse the core school curriculum with key 21st-century skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. And its Global Education initiative aims to help design the next generation of assessments that will help measure these skills.

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