Laptop, network enhancements expected

Henrico County's groundbreaking one-to-one laptop initiative for high-school students will conclude its third four-year contract June 30, and school officials are seeking enhancements that will make the next contract more efficient and effective.

The school system issued a request for proposal (RFP) last month to solicit interested bidders for the next contract, which will replace the current deal with Dell Computers for the provision of laptops and support for high school students, faculty and staff.

The RFP asks bidders to bundle the leasing of equipment with service needs, training for technical staff members, loaners and all other components necessary for the program, HCPS Technology Director Peter Taylor said, so that the overall cost to the school system may be more inclusive than in previous contracts.

The new machines will have solid-state hard drives, which are more durable and less likely to need repair than the mechanical drives that are used in the system's leased laptops currently, Taylor said. The new contract also will include a program on each laptop that automatically backs up critical student data to a server in their schools, he said. That way, students will have easy access to their materials at all times – even if they need loaner machines.

Officials will review bids with the School Board early next year, and the board likely will award a contract by the end of February.

In a separate RFP, to be issued by the end of December, school officials will seek bids to update the school system's network infrastructure. The current network, implemented in 2001 when Henrico began its laptop initiative with Apple, is on the verge of becoming obsolete, Taylor said. The chief problem: lack of adequate bandwidth, which particularly at the high school level is threatening to slow the flow of information from the internet and individual school servers to student and faculty computers.

Recommended state bandwidth standards for school systems exceed what Henrico's is capable of handling through its current network system, Taylor said. With so much demand for online content and so many users, high schools in the county likely will reach their bandwidth limitations within a year.

Upgrading the network to a 10 gigabits per second (gpbs) internal capability for all schools will provide more than enough bandwith, while preparing the school system for future needs, Taylor said. (Current bandwith varies from 10 megabits per second at elementary schools to 100 mbps at middle and high schools and 1 gpbs for internet usage.)

It also will provide enhanced levels of security for faculty and staff members, who will be able to submit grades, for example, through a completely secure wireless system.

Officials will recommend to the School Board a vendor and contract for the network enhancements sometime in the first quarter of 2013, with the intention of updating the network during the summer.

Some money for the project – which could cost $1.5 million or more in total, according to Superintendent Pat Russo – is included in the current budget. But the majority of it will need to be added, Russo said.
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