Behind the scenes construction improves college's infrastructure

Email this article 08/01/2011

There hasn’t been lots of dirt flying or concrete being poured, but there has been some major construction going on at Southwest Texas Junior College since the first of the year.

According to staff in the college’s information technology department, by the end of the summer over $600,000 will have been spent on phase I of a much-needed network infrastructure project. Funding for the project comes primarily from a Title V grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

"In many ways we were operating with a ‘Model A’ system and this moves us much closer to state-of-the-art," said David Sprott, assistant director of information technology. "We started work first at our campuses in Eagle Pass and Del Rio and then came to the Uvalde campus."

SWTJC Information Technology Director Agustin Alejandro said actual work on various equipment installation and upgrades began in January.

"We started right after the first of the year and since then we have replaced outdated routers and switches throughout the system, installed over 20 new servers and started installing a new phone system," said Alejandro.

The first part of the summer has been devoted to testing the new system to insure it is working according to plan. "It has been a big project and I commend all the IT staff for getting the job done with very few glitches," Alejandro said.

Increased speed, efficiency, capacity and security are the main benefits the project will bring to college students, faculty and staff.

One of the new systems in the upgrade is an "active directory" aimed at improving security. "The active directory will limit access throughout the system and this will be a big improvement to our security," said Colleague System Administrator Denise Oden.

Increased speed is another anticipated benefit. "We are expecting 10 times faster network operations with the improvements we’ve made and that should make everyone happier," Sprott said.

Of the new servers installed, four each are dedicated to the voice over phone system and active directory. An additional four exchange servers will accommodate faculty, staff and student e-mail.

Other servers are designated for web content management, web advisor (online registration), synoptics (extracting data for financial reports) and e-commerce (the college’s electronic payment system).

An emergency notification system which can utilize e-mail, text messaging, phone messaging, Twitter and Facebook will also be available through the new improvements. A document imaging server will improve efficiency by making it easier to move student information from site to site across the college’s 11-county service area.

The college also hopes to improve student retention through a Datatel retention alert system which will notify counselors and advisers when students fall behind in their attendance and grades.

Lack of capacity and outdated technology were the main impetus behind installing a new phone system. The new system has been installed in Eagle Pass and Del Rio, as well as in the Flores Student Services Building, the Administration Building and the information technology offices on the Uvalde campus.

"Not only was the old system outdated, there was simply no room left to add any additional lines," Sprott said. "By installing a new system, that runs through our network, we can now add phones anywhere we have network access."

Plans call for the remainder of the Uvalde campus, the Crystal City Instructional Facility and facilities the college utilizes in Pearsall and Hondo, to become part of the new phone system over the next year.

In addition to providing a new server for web content management, the college will launch an entirely new web presence this fall. Rachel Hinman is in charge of getting the new web site up and running.

"Our network is the backbone for most of our day-to-day operations and these improvements are essential to meeting the needs of our students, faculty and staff throughout our service area," SWTJC Dean of Institutional Advancement and Technology Dr. Blaine Bennett said.

According to Bennett, phase I of the network upgrade is the result of needs assessments his office does on a continuous basis.

"The ability to stay current with technology is always a struggle, especially in these tough financial times," Bennet said. "But we are constantly looking at ways to increase efficiency and quality of service and by utilizing some grant money for phase I we have definitely taken a big step forward."

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