Arlington ISD is getting ready for another groundbreaking to kick off its next major Bond 2019 project. But this one is different. It’s not for a new building, like the two ceremonies last month for Berry and Thornton elementary schools. This one is about technology.
This groundbreaking will kick off a major project to install a completely new private fiber network for the entire school district.
This project is all about internet – about students and teachers having access to all the online resources, learning materials and teaching tools that go into a 21st-century education. It’s about ensuring the demand for internet – which is growing all the time – is met now and for decades to come. And it’s about speed, stability and dependability – creating internet infrastructure designed to eliminate internet outages and guarantee smooth, uninterrupted access.
For internet now, the Arlington ISD has to lease WAN connectivity services. That means the district pays internet providers for their services and equipment. As demand grows, the district has to work with these vendors to add more services and install updated hardware. It’s a model that nearly all school districts have to buy into, but it’s less than ideal. It’s costly, always requires updates and new contracts, and has not proven to be the most resilient option.
But with the new dedicated private internal network, the district will create its own model that dramatically increases capacity and reliability.
The private network will utilize a multi-ring, clover-shaped topology. That means rings of underground fiber – wire made out of pure glass that acts as the highway that internet data travels on in the form of light – will be installed to encircle the entire school district and connect to every school. This bidirectional ring will allow data to flow both ways and includes significant resiliency. Fiber will enter each school in two locations to ensure reliability even further. So, if there is an issue with the fiber at one entry, the second can be used.
In addition to reliability, capacity will skyrocket and immediately give the district 10 times the bandwidth it currently has. Plus, since the district will have full control over the network, it can implement increases to capacity whenever necessary and can do so by simply adding additional hardware. In other words, increasing capacity won’t require a network redesign, as is often the case with the vendors who currently provide the district’s internet services. This new fiber network infrastructure is a foundation built to support capacity needs well into the future.
Another critical advantage of the private network is speed. No one else will have access to this network. The only traffic will be from district users. With no other traffic to contend with and complete control over the network, it will be full speed ahead.
Installing a private network is a major project only doable with funding from the 2019 Bond and the support of this community that made the bond program possible. Even with the bond, a project of this magnitude is extremely costly and, in the district’s case, made affordable through the E-Rate program, a federal program that provides discounts on technology for schools and libraries. The district was able to leverage E-Rate funding and get a discount of 80-90% off infrastructure costs for the private fiber network.
“Long term, this will give Arlington ISD a significant cost savings,” said Arlington ISD Assistant Superintendent of Technology Eric Upchurch. “We’ll stabilize the cost of our bandwidth for the next 20 years at the same time eliminating most of our commercial WAN service costs.”
Construction of the new fiber network will get started soon and be done in three phases. Each phase will include a mix of elementary, junior high and high schools, with the entire project expected to wrap up in 2023.
“We can put something in place that will last after we’re gone,” Upchurch said. “By investing in this infrastructure, the district provides a long-term, cost effective solution to meet demands for many years to come. This model allows the district to increase capacity quickly as needs arise to better serve the learning experience for students and support operational functions for faculty.”