For IT directors, the new data centre road map is clear: Head toward an all-IP network, complete with advanced IP applications such as real-time collaboration.

Already, companies are moving along the stepping-stones to this all-IP place. Many have implemented voice and video over IP, and are turning out frame relay networks and other private links in favour of pure IP connections, such as provided via MPLS-based networks.

For network leaders plotting their courses to the advanced IP paradise, the goal is to achieve real-time collaboration with advanced IP applications and an all-IP network.

In the second of our profiles, we talk to Jim Klein, the director of Information Services and Technology at Saugus Union School District in California.

School daze
While Klein doesn't need to provide advanced IP service out in the wilds, he does want to deliver it to wherever the user might be.

"For us, collaboration means not having to gather all the students in a single room for a presentation - that's a hassle, and it takes time," Klein says. "With an advanced IP network and applications, we can broadcast a presentation to the whole school in their individual rooms. This saves time and opens us up to a larger pool of presenters." Some speakers, he says, are more comfortable addressing smaller groups, such as a single class. In such cases, he can broadcast the presentation in real time to every room.

Klein also wants teachers to be able to communicate with each other and faculty without leaving the classroom.

To facilitate these and other collaborative opportunities, Klein has made great strides toward an all-IP network equipped with VoIP, wireless networks and video. He started two years ago by rewiring the district, which includes 16 elementary, middle and high schools, "for a next-generation network." Power over Ethernet technology, for data centres, gives him the ability to easily roll out wireless access points. "We tried to make the platform as flexible as possible," he says.

Klein installed 700 TV sets in classrooms district-wide that are controlled over the IP-based network via a media retrieval system that allows for the uploading and broadcast of presentations and teaching tools. "The TVs are grouped by grade level and we can control changes in volume and channels over a central server system," he says.

However, each school's TV network remains an island. Extending this media retrieval system to the wide area is one step on the way to the advanced IP paradise Klein envisions. Once his vision is recognised, schools will be able to share broadcasts with each other. One obstacle to this goal, he says, is the need for special software at each client workstation - a cost he says is too steep.

Klein also has outfitted Saugus Union classrooms with VoIP capability - 700 IP phones have been placed throughout the district. "Our school sites didn't have traditional phone service to all the classrooms so this is a big benefit," he says.

The cost of a traditional PBX system to support the entire district vs. the cost of his 3Com VoIP network with features such as unified messaging wasn't that much different, he says. "But the PBX system couldn't touch the flexibility and performance you have with the voice over IP network. You can route all calls over the WAN links and that saves you money," he says.

A big bonus he sees with VoIP and an all-IP network is the ability to quickly bring new sites online. "We are a growing district with lots of construction going on. We don't have to call 'Joe's Cable Company' to get new phone and television service up and running at each location; we can do it ourselves. That's a big plus," Klein says.

Eventually, Klein would like to blend VoIP and wireless for anywhere, anytime access. "Everyone would carry around their phones on their hips and be able to access the VoIP system over wireless," he says. And that, no doubt, would be a paradise for many users.