Unified communications saves Canadian school district $200k/year

Installation includes Adtran NetVanta software, Windows-based Dell servers and Polycom and Grandstream IP phones

The Pembina Trails School Division in the Canadian province of Manitoba is saving $200,000 a year in telecom costs thanks to its unified communications deployment, which includes Adtran NetVanta software, Windows-based Dell servers and Polycom and Grandstream IP phones.

The Pembina Trails School Division in the Canadian province of Manitoba is saving $200,000 a year in telecom costs thanks to its unified communications deployment.

Indeed, the installation, which includes Adtran NetVanta software on Windows-based Dell servers quarterbacking 1,825 Polycom and Grandstream IP phones, has already paid for itself. It cost $500,000 to implement five years ago, says Don Reece, director of IT at the school district. (See related story, "UC pays off for Fluor, NHL hockey team".)

"We wanted to be as hardware-agnostic as we could be," Reece says. "Nortel, Mitel, Cisco -- none of those would fit the bill" for maintaining a low total cost of ownership. "They were proprietary, and had unsustainable licensing fees."

Unified communications, collaboration can help save cash

Pembina's network connects 34 schools and five administrative offices over its own 47 kilometer dark fiber at 1Gbps. It will be running at 10Gbps by the end of July, Reece says.

The school district is actually the amalgamation of two former school divisions, one of which had different PBX phone systems, the other with a telco-based service.

"The whole thing did not work well," Reece says. "We saw it as an opportunity to consolidate and move into a UC environment rather than duplicate it."

So the school purchased IP phones, installed the NetVanta software on the Dell servers, employed Microsoft's Active Directory to keep track of who was where, and is now reaping the benefits. The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-compliant network consolidates and load balances ISDN Primary Rate Interfaces (PRI) so that any open PRI is available to any caller at any time. The school also reduced the number of lines from 143 to 48, Reece says.

SIP also delivers the school's paging and public address system, and a district-wide video system in six to eight months, Reece says. With that, messages from the superintendant will be seen in every classroom in real-time, he says.

The superintendant can also upload messages to the Pembina Web site through a cellphone to share information on such things as weather or road conditions, and how it impacts the school day.

Pembina is also saving money on features like call forwarding and voice mail, which were charged separately by the telco. Those are included in the NetVanta UC software, Reece says.

The school would like to expand on its implementation by enabling SIP-based phone capabilities on its wireless LAN. This would enable teachers and administrators to use smartphones within the Pembina districts buildings instead of "hard phones," Reece says.

The school is also looking to integrate presence into its SIP paging/video and Microsoft Office Communications Server applications. That could enable individual or group-specific click-to-dial/videoconferencing capabilities.

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