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  Updated: 20 December 1997
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Something to get X-Sited about

DIGITAL’s Multivendor Customer Services (MCS) specialises in helping its customers marry together hardware and software from different suppliers to create working business solutions. The division recently demonstrated its prowess when it installed a computer network that uses equipment and software from several different suppliers, into one of New Zealand’s most prestigious girls’ colleges.

After concerns were raised that missing out on the rapidly changing face of computing was disadvantaging its students, Wellington Girls’ College last year decided to upgrade all its computing facilities. "A survey of our 1,100 students revealed that 80 per cent had a computer at home, and 40 per cent of those had Internet access," says Wellington Girls’ Head of Computing, Caroll Smyth. "The College had several ageing computer laboratories, an administration system and a separate library system, but we needed a computer network that was the equal of the best that is available," says Ms Smyth. "We know that computers are fast becoming indispensable and we believe it is crucial that our students become familiar with their use."

Over the past year, in a project called X-Site, MCS staff have managed the installation of a state-of-the-art network that integrates the College’s existing educational applications with new DIGITAL PCs and servers, 3Com networking equipment, Hewlett Packard printers, and software from Sophos, Microsoft, Aldus and Adobe. "X-Site is a project that typifies DIGITAL’s one-stop solution for customers," says Gary Dawson New Zealand MCS general manager. "We provided end-to-end consulting expertise and we have managed the project right the way through to make sure the College got the network that best meets their needs."

DIGITAL Microsoft systems engineer Colin Richardson is one of forty MCS specialists in New Zealand and was responsible for the job. He worked with the school’s X-Site committee and Wellington-based DIGITAL reseller Environmental Magic Ltd to establish the College’s requirements and then liaised with local network installation company PCL to install the network cabling and hardware and get X-Site up and running.

Colin replaced two Novell networks that connected computers in the existing Apple Mac and PC laboratories and MUSAC administration system with a single Microsoft NT 4.0 network. The network now supports the original departmental software and the latest generation of networked business, publishing and graphics applications over high-grade Cat 5 cabling that has 120 terminations throughout the campus.

"We want to use computers as a tool throughout the curriculum," explains Ms Smyth. "Our vision is to have individual student laptops in the classrooms. By plugging movable hubs into the network in the departments we can connect clusters of PC’s to the network," she says. The use of an NT network gives students access to software that includes Microsoft’s Office Suite, Adobe PhotoShop and Aldus PageMaker, in a controlled environment. It also gives each student a separate profile that enables her to access her own unique workspace on any of 70 NT workstations located throughout the College. "Our three DIGITAL Prioris and Celebris file servers contain templates for the students that determine which programs individuals can access and let us create private home directories for each student that are shared with their tutors," says Richardson.

The X-Site network (the name was chosen by the students) has exposed the college to the Pandora’s box of Internet communications. In addition to their own specific profiles and workspace directories, it is possible for students to directly access the Internet and have their own e-mail addresses, so they can communicate with other computer users, including their teachers. "One file server periodically dials a Wellington ISP, Netlink, and transfers external mail. X-Site uses Exchange to post mail to the appropriate mailboxes," says Richardson. "All the student has to do is logon to any workstation on the network to get their mail."

The same machine also manages seven separate printer queues that enables both students and tutors to access four HP printers located throughout the College, again based on each user’s individual identification.

The file servers regularly back-up critical system files and directories and use the English sourced Sophos virus utility, which is remotely updated each month, to protect the network against potential damage.

"In the future students will be able to use e-mail to exchange messages with their peers and their teachers," says Ms Smyth. "They could also use the system to post work to their tutors."

X-Site is a learning exercise not only for the students. In addition to using departmental workstations, the 67 college teachers currently share a pool of twenty laptop computers, each running Microsoft Windows95. "Loaning a teacher a laptop for a couple of months is the easiest way to get them comfortable with the technology," explains Ms Smyth. "Unfortunately most do not want to give them back when the laptops are rotated."

Wellington Girls’ College has enjoyed real cost savings by leasing most of its computer equipment, except for the hardwired 3Com networking hardware, from DIGITAL reseller EML. "By leasing our computer equipment we get to use about three times the number of PC’s we could have afforded to purchase outright," says Ms Smyth. "As well we can upgrade our equipment to keep in step with changing technology."

"It has been a learning curve," she admits, "but we now have a network that is the equal of the best business systems available. We could not have done it without DIGITAL’s help. The company has just been fantastic."

"I am now 100 per cent certain that we have future proofed our computer network," she says. "The next step, making it all work seamlessly, is going to be an interesting challenge."