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14 NOV

DeSoto County Chooses Siemon & Cyber Technology Security for 21st Century School District – white-paper

by Hugh Brewer

DeSoto County Chooses Siemon & Cyber
Technology Security for 21st Century
School DistrictLendon Balch – DeSoto’s Director of
Technology Delivery, Milton Kuykendall –
Superintendent of Education for the DeSoto
County, Derwood Brewer – owner of Cyber

Technologies, and Towner Lowles of Siemon
Milton Kuykendall, the Superintendent of
Education for the DeSoto County, Mississippi
has a very clear vision for his school system.
“This will be the best school system in the
country,” he states plainly. It is a bold
statement, but something in his demeanor
makes everyone in the room believe it will
happen. Back behind his desk just hours after
learning that his leg was broken, he speaks
passionately about the exponential growth of
DeSoto County. “7.5 families move to DeSoto
every day, over 1800 new student per year,”
Kuykendall states, “And, the biggest reason is
the school system this team has built – the
teachers, staff and administrators have made
something special here.” The numbers
reinforce that something special is happening.
Out of 26 schools in the county, 16 have
received a superior rating according to the No
Child Left Behind act, and 7 others are
considered exemplary. In a state consistently
rated towards the bottom of most educational
lists, DeSoto County is beating the odds.

A major part of the school system’s progress is tied to technology. “We are building a 21st century school
district,” Kuykendall explains, “We are combining curriculum and technology. We’re getting them to mesh
seamlessly.”

This ongoing program to present technology as a critical learning tool is sweeping. DeSoto provides an
impressive list of computer and network based education applications.
▪ Video Classrooms
▪ Voice over IP
▪ Streaming Digital Curriculum,
▪ Web Based Applications
▪ Email
▪ Student and faculty Internet Access
▪ Environmental controls
▪ Closed Circuit Television
▪ Lab Applications
▪ Cafeteria POS
▪ Office Administrative Applications
▪ Library Management
▪ Intrusion Prevention Systems

While these applications provide
DeSoto students and faculty
outstanding and comprehensive
access to e-learning resources,
they add considerable strain on
network infrastructure. Ensuring
that the network is capable of
handling increased performance
requirements belongs to Lendon
Balch, DeSoto’s Director of
Technology Delivery. From the
earliest planning stages, Balch and
Robert Earl Phillips, DeSoto’s
Director of Physical Plant, closely
examined their physical
infrastructure needs, focusing on
the cabling system.

Their initial research and analysis narrowed the available options. DeSoto could continue to install
category 5e UTP, as it had in its previous school networks, or they could move to a 10Gb/s solution.

To Balch, the decision was clear, “I have been to seminars discussing everything from video to backup
storage devices,” he explained, “They all discuss 10Gb/s as if it were already the approved standard.”
With the 10GBASE-T standard nearing ratification, Balch had little difficulty showing other decision
makers that 10Gb/s was real. But, convincing people that an elementary school needs 10Gb/s was
another issue. Balch was prepared to answer this one as well; “I have learned over the years to never say
things like, ‘We’ll never need that’ or ‘I can’t see our district ever wanting to do that.'”

This understanding of network advances was supported by DeSoto’s own experiences. The District was
already replacing category 5 installations that were less than eight years old. While some of these
replacements were necessary due to quality issues with product and installation, it was also driven by the
category 5 infrastructure’s inability to support many of the newer classroom applications involving video
and audio. “Our needs are becoming just as demanding as any corporate environment and in many
cases we are probably more demanding than most.” Balch explained. “To continue with a generation of
cabling that we are already replacing in some buildings seemed ridiculous to me.”

Balch and Phillips made a strong case, and the DeSoto County School System decided that a 10Gb/s
cabling system was the best choice for the county’s students. Carefully weighing all available systems,
DeSoto selected Siemon’s 10G 6A UTP end-to-end copper network cabling system for the horizontal.
This category 6A (augmented category 6) solution meets or exceeds all performance requirements
dictated by the 10GBASE-T standards, and met all of DeSoto’s needs for the data network. Siemon’s
XGLO 10Gb/s singlemode fiber was chosen for backbone data traffic. “Siemon’s performance was
everything that we required, and we trusted their reputation for quality,” Phillips noted.

With a cabling system selected, DeSoto put forth a competitive bid package. Based upon the preliminary
network specifications, they sought a best-value installation provider. It was important that the installer be
selected from Siemon’s network of Certified Installers. The reason was twofold. One of the important
tipping points in the selection of a Siemon solution was their comprehensive 20 year system warranty,
which offered industry-best product, performance and installation coverage. Only Siemon Certified
Installers can provide installations eligible for the system warranty.

Additionally, the Certified Installer program itself impressed DeSoto. Only installers who attend and pass
Siemon’s 5-day, ISO 9001 certified installation and network design class can become a CI. These
organizations are heavily screened for stability
and required to maintain their certification
through continuing education. “We know the
value of a professional installation,” Balch
explained, “Because we know the issues
caused by poor installation practices.”

Much of DeSoto’s network suffered from a
combination of poor installation practices,
inadequate planning and poor quality of
material. “We have patch panels that have
developed dead ports; cable that has become
brittle; and wall jacks that must be replaced on
a regular basis.” Balch continues, “The
performance of our networks has been
degraded in some of our buildings to the point
where we have no other choice than to tear it
all out and start over.” Balch and the rest of
the DeSoto team felt strongly that a quality
installation was as critical as the product itself.
After an exhaustive final selection process,
Cyber Technologies of Senatobia, MS was
awarded the project on the strength of their
best, lowest cost bid. “By the time DeSoto
selected Cyber Technologies, they had a
strong vision for their network and had chosen
their cabling plant,” explained Hugh Brewer,
President of Cyber Technologies. “We arrived
just in time to design and implement the
infrastructure.”

Working closely with Balch and Phillips, Brewer designed an infrastructure to support the school’s
immediate and future needs, with an eye towards simple moves, adds and changes as well as centralized
control and troubleshooting. The basic design would be repeated for all schools, modified as necessary to
accommodate architectural concerns.

The network data backbone consists of 12 strands of 50/125 Siemon XGLO multimode fiber and 6
strands of singlemode. In keeping with DeSoto’s future-proofing approach, this 10Gb/s capable backbone
is well-suited to support a growing network. Laid out in a star topology, the fiber data backbone is
supplemented by two 50-pair category 3 cables to handle all intercom and CCTV equipment as well one
RG-11 for CATV.

The horizontal infrastructure features Siemon’s 10G 6A UTP cabling system for data. This end-to-end
category 6A solution includes Siemon cable, patch panels, patch cords and work area solutions as well as
racking and cable management. Although Brewer and DeSoto’s Balch and Phillips all believed in the
performance benefits of the category 6A UTP solution, the prospect of working with the cable was a bit
scary for Brewer. “The diameters on all of the alien crosstalk compliant cables were pretty big and didn’t
look very easy to deal with,” Brewer said.

The increased cable diameters Brewer saw can be traced back to the extraordinary means employed by
cable manufacturers to develop alien crosstalk compliant UTP cable. TIA standards allow increased
category 6A cable diameters of up to 0.354 in (9mm), compared to category 6 at 0.22 in (5.64mm). While
the ability to control alien crosstalk in a familiar UTP construction was a benefit for DeSoto and Cyber
Technologies, the increased cable size significantly decreased pathway cable counts and density.

“Luckily, we had time to plan
additional pathway space to
accommodate the thicker cable,”
Brewer explained. “And, density at
the patch panel was a pleasant
surprise.” Brewer attributes the
unexpected density to the fact that
the Siemon panel’s increased port
spacing, designed to optimize alien
crosstalk performance also
eliminates the need for rack
mounted horizontal cable
managers. The Cyber
Technologies installers were able
to route patch cords directly into
vertical managers, saving 2-3 RMS
per patch panel.

Brewer was also pleasantly surprised at the ease with which Siemon’s category 6A cable could be pulled.
“It was some of the easiest cable I’ve pulled, of any category,” Brewer said. “The jacket slid easily even in
large bundles and it came off the reel with no memory – no kinks, no bends.” Brewer and his team also
saw little difference in termination and suggested that the 23 AWG conductors added a benefit over
smaller gauge wires. “The thicker conductors were stiffer and took a little more effort to untwist for
termination but once they were laid out, they stayed where they were supposed to.”
Brewer admits that he and his team had to learn new installation techniques: “All of these category 6A
UTP cables may offer good alien crosstalk protection, but you have to be very cautious in your
installation. You have to avoid anything that will deform the jacket.” Deformation can be a threat to all
category 6A UTP cables, which use increased overall diameters to increase cable to cable pair separation
for alien crosstalk mitigation. Deforming the jacket decreases these separations and makes the cables
susceptible to crosstalk. Some of the techniques Cyber Technologies utilizes to steer clear of this
potential issue include avoiding over-cinched tie-wraps, staying within maximum pathway fill ratios and
carefully observing bend radius limits.

In addition to the category 6A data channels, the horizontal includes Cat 5e for CCTV and RG-6 for CATV.
All horizontal channels are “home run”, going directly from the telecom room’s horizontal cross-connects
to the work area. Brewer felt that this configuration would be the easiest for the school to manage. “We
tend to think of a classroom as pretty static. Sure, there may not be as many moves and changes as an
office cubicle environment, but evolving education applications will absolutely require flexibility in the
cabling plant,” Brewer explained. “That flexibility is even more critical in the computer labs. The homerun
configuration will make it far easier and less expensive for the school system to manage change on their
own.”

The potential complexity of the network will make ease of management critical for DeSoto. The initial
project includes 7 schools in the county, ranging in size from 100,000 to 350,000 ft2 .
Each classroom is supplied with 4 drops, supporting the teacher workstation, network printer, VoIP phone
and video services. Computer lab areas received 36 drops, all supporting workstations and printers. The
initial phase of the project totaled over 3000 ports, each ready for 10Gb/s. New schools and retrofits are
on the way, and DeSoto’s Balch and Phillips plan on sticking with the their plan.

Back in Superintendent Milton Kuykendall’s office, one has to be impressed at his commitment to DeSoto County’s students. There are not many elected officials that would be so willing to meet public criticism
and cost-cutting pressures with a state of the art network. Kuykendall seems unwilling to take much
credit. “Lendon (Balch) and Robert-Earl (Phillips) did their homework and told me that this cabling would
support all of our technology initiatives for years to come,” he explains. “Not only will it make our students
better, it will save us money in the long run. It will still be serving DeSoto when this office has someone
else’s name on the door and I’m golfing full-time.” As he finished, someone joked that with all this effort,
he might actually be serious about making DeSoto the best school system in the country. Kuykendall took
his broken and heavily braced leg down from his desk, leaned over and said, “What makes you think I
wasn’t serious before?”

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Hugh Brewer

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