The ADM Schools administrative offices – including technology department offices – moved to a newly-renovated facility at 215 North 11th Street in Adel in January of 2016. In advance of the move, we in the technology department were busy getting the new facility wired, so to speak, with wireless and wired networks, integrated technologies such as projectors, digital signage, and network access to our other buildings.
Even more of a challenge, though, was the relocation of the bulk of our district data center, which was previously located in our technology offices within ADM High School. While part of the motivation for relocating the data center was to keep our servers and other network equipment in close proximity to technology staff, the bigger motivation was to be able to return valuable classroom space to the high school.
What Moved? What Stayed?
While there are advantages to consolidating services and points of entry as completely as possible, some components of our data center and network didn’t make logistical or financial sense to move. Since ADM serves as a regional hub for the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) – the state-owned network that provides, among other things, our district’s internet access – and the hub is located in the room adjacent to our old data center, we did not move our incoming/outgoing ICN connection. Accordingly, we kept our district firewall in place. Further, the switches and analog phone lines serving the high school were kept in place.
We did, however, move our virtual server infrastructure (VMWare host servers and storage), other physical servers that we still have in operation, wireless controllers, and our high-capacity battery backup. Moving this equipment reduces the footprint in the old data center from a significant portion of the full room to a single rack, allowing us to install a locking cabinet rack in the room and return the rest of the room for classroom use.
What are the benefits of the move?
The new data center – much more spacious than the old location – offers improvements in terms of space, security, infrastructure, and reliability. The new data center occupies what used to be a classroom when our new administrative center was a school building. This space allows us to consolidate our data center with our primary technology storage area, which serves to provide us quicker access to needed resources, but also allows us to take better advantage of increased security.
Access to the data center is controlled electronically, such that only a small number of district staff have access to the facility. Entries to the facility are logged, and the threat of a lost key no longer poses a danger to the department’s information or physical security. Physical access is also substantially more difficult in this facility, which has no windows or keyed door locks. Further, the new data center has a motion sensor tied to our building’s alarm system. Located in the basement of a 100-year old building, the new data center is also far less vulnerable to tornado damage, which is always a threat to information security for Iowa schools. This heightened security is made even more valuable by the dual-purpose of the facility, which also includes technology storage. The value of stored devices – especially prior to a deployment – can be significant.
Whereas our old facility was not designed to be a data center, the new area includes dedicated power that is designed to handle the power needs of our electronic equipment. Further, the room has integrated air conditioning, along with a temperature monitor that alerts the director of buildings and grounds if the temperature in the room exceeds a set level.
Finally, the new data center provides us with better network reliability. In order to serve the data needs of the department prior to the expansion of our fiber network and the full data center transition, the data center was served by its own internet connection. Now, that internet connection is configured to act as a backup in the event that our district’s primary internet connection should go down. While the bandwidth available is far less than through our ICN connection at the high school, it is sufficient to keep internet access operational until the ICN connection is restored.
What remains to be done?
We will be consolidating district fax services – previously handled by analog connections to fax machines in each building – in the data center, with analog fax lines routed through a fax server for digital receipt and delivery of messages. Further, expansion of our virtual server infrastructure will allow us to offer virtualized application delivery district-wide, and may also combine with additional storage to support a security camera implementation throughout the district.