Students, faculty and community members alike can look forward to faster Internet and download times as Washington State Community College rolls out the last of its information technology improvement plan going through the spring semester.
After some substantial data losses from outdated tech equipment and an audit from the attorney general's office that found areas of inefficiency, the college put together an eight-step plan to overhaul its IT systems, including everything from telephones to firewall protection, all to the tune of about $500,000.
Jason Dixon, who was brought aboard as Chief Information Officer to help manage the project, said that work is ahead of schedule and completion should be reached in early spring.
"Students and staff should notice a performance difference throughout campus," Dixon said, adding that the plan will not only help everyone function more efficiently, but will also cut power costs while meeting state requirements.
The updates began with the installation of a new phone system, one that reduces the numbers of cords and cables from the hundreds of phones on campus.
"In the end with being a more green campus, something that has been mandated through the state...that's going to be a big help. It'll lower the college's electric bill," said Esther Salem, an IT professor and the program coordinator for the digital technology department.
Washington State Community College Technology To-Do List:
New Phone system: Budget $140,000, complete.
Network Core project: Budget $142,800, complete.
Server Infrastructure: Budget $98,000, in progress.
Backups/Disaster Recovery: Budget $20,000, expected finish-spring.
Wireless Infrastructure: Budget $40,000, expected finish-spring.
Firewall Protection: Budget $6,000, expected finish-spring.
Bandwidth traffic shaping: Budget $23,000, expected finish-spring.
Document imaging: Budget $116,000, ongoing.
Future plans include: collaborative email system, print controls, remote access (doors), email archiving, mass notification system, access controls/facility lock down
The phone system as well as the network core project is complete, both together taking up about $182,800 of the total budget plan. Dixon noted that everything done so far has allowed them to stick to the budget closely, but official hard numbers are yet to become available. The college is currently in the stage of improving server infrastructure, where the 40-some servers on campus will be virtualized into just a few machines where everything can be centralized.
"We're creating a failsafe," he said. "(With the audit) we have to be able to show that we have consistent records available, so if something were to happen, we have to have a fail safe in place to recreate financial data. If a server crashes we have to get us back to a place where we're functioning."
The audit by the attorney general's office came with the recommendation that the college rehire a CIO. Kinetic Networking, a company that works to find effective IT solutions for businesses, contracted Dixon to fill the position, which Dixon said could very well be permanent.
"Without someone in that role, the IT was left as an additional duty. It was getting put on others. There was no direct oversight," he said.
The project is being funded from different places, depending on the "step" of the overall project. Anything that directly affects students, like the wireless infrastructure updates, will come from the student tech fee that everyone must pay to take classes. Other projects, like the phone system, comes from the college's own funds.
"I know it wasn't a cheap upgrade...and at a time when we keep saying 'we have no money, we have no money.' But sometimes there are things you just have to do because otherwise you can't conduct business in a way that's appropriate," Salem said.
One of the most visible problems to faculty and students was the slow speed of Internet and slow downloading times.
"Especially in the middle of the day, in a math class or something, the Internet is so slow. It always gets fixed eventually, but it can make things difficult," said Megan Fox, a freshman studying early childhood education.
Dixon said everything from the wireless project to firewall and safety improvements could be done as early as the end of February and into March.
"Everyone's got a smartphone and a tablet now. So for students to be able to hang out on campus for an hour between classes, that wireless aspect is huge. It's going to make a big impact on the student experience," he said.