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56 kb/s network helps 52 school districts cope with tight budgets.

A 56 kb/s network that covers 10 counties of eastern Ohio has helped 52 school districts save a lot of money and keep up with state rules and regulations.

The 52 districts are in a consortium known as OME-RESA, the Ohio Mid-Eastern Regional Educational Services Agency. Originally formed to get better prices on supplies through volume buying, the consortium has grown to provide many more services, including those that rely on electronic communication.

Andy Qualtire, executive director of OME-RESA, explains that the organization also enables schools to get legal advice, health insurance, training and other services at bargain prices.

The communications network allows OME-RESA to provide payroll and accounting services, scheduling and attendance records service, and even standardized proficiency test scoring to schools, each of which would otherwise have to hire someone on their own to do that work.

Sam Fleder, OME-RESA's network manager, came to work for the agency in 1987. About three years ago, as he looked around and saw a disturbing number of veteran 1200 baud connections in place, he decided the network needed upgrading.

The upgrade involved installing dedicated 56 kb/s lines to seven hub sites and 14.4 kb/s lines to three others. All sites are equipped with Network Equipment Technologies multiplexers.

An eighth 56 kb/s line connects one hub site to a Digital Equipment Micro-VAX at a distant school district. That school was the site of an ambitious trial that turned into a commercial installation, in which Apple equipment was linked with the MicroVAX in a three-building LAN-over-fiber setup.

"We used to have 50 phone lines coming into OME-RESA. Now we have 20," says Fleder. "We were able to save approximately $4,500 a month in phone line costs."

Network hubs, with SPX 30 muxes, are usually county school board offices. Tail circuits coming into the hub sites are 9.6 kb/s. The network has about 100 multiplexer nodes, along with 100 single-terminal dial-up sites. Those sites dial their nearest node to get onto the OME-RESA network.

A foresighted Fleder installed no multiplexer with less than eight ports. Now, he says, "If I have to upgrade a unit, I don't have to pull the box out. Just pull the blank out, pop a card in, flip a couple of DIP switches, and I'm gone."

OME-RESA tested the multiplexers for three months in 1989 and had the equipment in place by fall 1990.

Before installation of the new, manageable muxes, Fleder says, "there was no sophisticated means of diagnosing network problems, problems with the lines. The phone company gave you the standard answer--it wasn't their problem. We would put in box after box; we couldn't prove it was a problem with the line."

Good timing

Timing of the network upgrade couldn't have been better. Shortly after the work was done, the state began requiring all schools to submit report data electronically. For OME-RESA, it was a big, but manageable, undertaking to extend the network from the 56 kb/s sites to each school in the district.

"In nine months Sam and his department put 260 buildings on-line," Qualtire boasts. "That meant working night and day and sleeping on the road."

The basic network setup remained the same, Fleder explains, but with the upgraded equipment in place, it "enhanced our ability to go out to the elementary school buildings and the junior highs."

OME-RESA in some cases had to wait impatiently until 56 kb/s lines became available in rural areas.

"Ohio Bell's Optinet service made it feasible for us to convert leased lines to 56 kb/s," Fleder says. "Our 14.4 lines go into the neighboring area code, where 56 kb/s lines are cost prohibitive and you have to go through a long-distance carrier. Instead, we go with 14.4 modems to pump up the speed of the main trunk line."

At remote sites, the equipment standard is DEC printers, DEC VT 320 and 420 terminals and NEC America modems.

At OME-RESA's headquarters and all-DEC data center in Steubenville, Ohio, the multiplexing equipment goes straight from an 802.3 Ethernet connector into the DELNI, or Digital Ethernet Local Network Interface, bypassing servers or other potential points of failure.

Keeping the pace

The network has no trouble keeping up with demands on it. Any slowdowns are due to the processing capacity at OME-RESA. Too many jobs come in from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

"We did see some slowdown at peak times until we upgraded the CPU and added 32 meg of memory," Qualtire says. "Also, we limit certain batch jobs to nightime. We ask people to adjust their schedules slightly. We're also looking into adding a small MicroVAX so we can route the batch jobs to it."

"Our network provides an electronic mail function to anyone on the Ohio Educational Computer Network," says Qualtire. "We also have a communication link to Columbus, where we get on the state microwave system. That gives OME-RESA members the capability for E-mail to any other district, to connect to state education department computers, and as a gateway to Bitnet and the Internet."

School districts used to send paper reports to the state education department, and "there was no way to retrieve that information," says Qualtire. Now a district can go on-line and generate reports comparing its performance to similar districts.

"Payroll and accounting are on-line systems, so the school districts do all their applications right from their office. They keep their records and print their checks, but use us as a repository for the information and the software," Qualtire says.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:T1/T3 Networks
Author:Tanzillo, Kevin
Publication:Communications News
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:933
Previous Article:Firm networks voice, video, data on T1.
Next Article:Who ya gonna call? Help from the help desk.
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