We live in an information-driven society. Human activities and institutions increasingly depend on reliable telecommunications and information technology (IT) systems and networks. Many schools and universities are faced with a need to incorporate new IT systems that did not even exist when the schools originally were designed. Accommodating these new technologies demands careful planning for technology infrastructure upgrades as part of any renovation, expansion or new construction program.
Whenever an institution embarks on a construction project, it is an opportune time to take a look at the technology infrastructure and evaluate what can be incorporated cost-effectively into the program. The planning team will need to deal with four key issues:
Evaluate, forecast and prioritize future telecommunications and IT needs.
Determine the nature and capacity of the physical infrastructure, including supporting electrical and environmental systems, that will be needed to support current and future IT system operations.
Evaluate network alternatives, including wired vs. wireless networks.
Plan the space required to build a cost-effective, flexible infrastructure to meet future needs.
Administrators do not need to be IT professionals in order to make sound decisions — ideally, in-house and independent IT professionals will be part of the planning team — but they do need a fundamental understanding of the issues and terminology.
There are many ways to connect a school to the Internet, the school district's central office and other external information resources. In many people's minds, optical fiber is a “must-have,” but this is not necessarily so. Satellite or terrestrial wireless radio, a digital subscriber line (DSL) or an integrated services digital network (ISDN) can be used when fiber is not available and is cost-prohibitive to install.
It can be argued that fiber has advantages over wireless, DSL and ISDN services including speed, capacity and reliability, and it is wise to plan for its eventual installation. However, it is not the only effective solution in the school environment. A planning team should consider all of the options and identify the most cost-effective approach for a school's specific and most immediate needs.