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TJSL leads the way with smarter, faster, cleaner technology

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You’d be hard pressed to find another law school in America more technologically advanced than Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Not only is TJSL’s new campus a beautiful sight to behold, but the technology utilized throughout the building, from the network infrastructure to the enhanced learning tools in the classrooms and the virtualized desktops, is state-of-the-art.

“For several months we worked 10 hour days, seven days a week and now have reached the light at the end of the tunnel,” said James Cooper, TJSL’s chief information officer. Cooper has been conceptualizing the innovative technology that is now in place in TJSL’s new downtown campus for a few years now.

“The law school opened in January with an all new network infrastructure,” said Cooper. “The network consists of Cisco Systems network switches, telephone system, and wireless radios, and offers 1 GB connectivity to the desktop. This is an increase of 10-fold over the wired networking speed at our previous campus. Wireless connectivity covers more than 99 percent of the campus and is used mostly by students and guests of the school, and is load-balanced to ensure the best user experience.”

During the last 12 months, TJSL also has replaced 90 percent of the server infrastructure. This was done in an effort to not only offer greater reliability and backup capabilities, but also to save energy and reduce the school’s carbon footprint. The TJSL server infrastructure has been virtualized with VMWare and has replaced 35 physical servers with just four servers and a large storage array.

“Our network environment has been designed using cloud technology,” said Brian Graham, TJSL network administrator. “This means that all applications and user data is stored in one central area, which gives users the ability to work from anywhere on campus and still be able to access all of their personal data, including their Windows desktop. This concept frees TJSL users from a desk and gives them the ability to work from anywhere at any time, from any device.”

In short, TJSL has its own internal Internet – the cloud.

“Right now we officially have over 200 virtual desktops running on our network,” said Graham. “To put it into perspective, we have not only become one of the most technologically advanced law schools in the U.S., but we’re also way ahead of many businesses out there.” “VMware recently asked 430 companies about virtual desktop implementation and 43 percent of those are either in the process of rolling out Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) or are considering using VDI. Our school has essentially completed a major VDI rollout before 60 percent of these 430 surveyed companies.” The old campus had more than 100 computers -- averaging five years of age -- that were no longer viable for use as reliable business machines, were not energy-wise and backed-up. To remedy this, all TJSL staff have been moved to a VMWare-based solution with Samsung virtual terminals at each desk.

According to Cooper, this solution offers a more reliable and accessible remote user experience with VMWare View. View allows faculty and staff to have easy access to their on-campus computer, business software, network shares and printing without requiring special VPN software. And, it’s available for both PCs and Macs.

Virtualization of the desktop also offers much quicker turn around in computer repairs and allows IT personnel to assist faculty and staff via remote desktop sessions as well as the ability to make repairs to the desktop directly from the Help Desk. Virtualization also reduces the frequency and volume of equipment purchased and recycled by the school. This improves environmental impact by reducing the volume of toxic metals, both purchased and recycled.

“Eliminating over 100 power hungry PCs and replacing them with four servers and virtual terminals enabled us to cut power consumption and creation of greenhouse gasses,” said Cooper. “The power management system provided by APC allows us to track usage and generate consumption reports over time.”

All TJSL servers, networking gear and telephones throughout the building are provided backup power by an APC back-up system that is tied into the school’s emergency generator. The APC system also can alert the servers in case of an emergency, enabling a controlled shut down of the room. The APC implementation is based on a “hot aisle/cold aisle” concept that reduces the amount of energy required to cool the data center by drawing heat away from the equipment rather than cooling the entire room.

Randy Krzyston, TJSL’s director of IT operations, said another huge task was moving the entire server from the Old Town location to the new East Village location. As luck would have it, the move took place during what was one of the worst rainstorms in San Diego in years.

“Whenever you physically move servers and other hardware there is always a bit of a risk that they may not come back on,” said Krzyston. “We took extreme care to ensure that we had all of our data backed up and even tested restores to ensure our data integrity. I’m glad to say that our hard work and preparation paid off, as we did not lose a single server and all of the data on our storage area network was intact.”

New technology has greatly enhanced the potential for learning in the classroom at TJSL. Each of the large classrooms on campus features built-in video conferencing equipment from Polycom. This equipment allows multiple rooms to be bridged into a single room as well as the ability to collaborate with remote sites in different cities, states and countries. The same cameras and microphones are integrated with an automated lecture capture solution that can be programmed to record in advance or on the fly. Lectures are automatically encoded and added to a server where students can access them via the TJSL student portal or by subscribing to an RSS feed.

Polycom conferencing and lecture capture equipment is also available in two recording studios on campus. The recording studios can be used to offer live distance learning courses or to record content for distribution via a video server.

Larry Payne, area vice president for Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO), and several other company executives toured the new TJSL in February, remarking how they are “impressed by the facilities and use of Cisco technology.”

“Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s breathtaking new eight-story building is on the cutting-edge of 21st century learning, said Payne. “A great example of that is the ability to view lectures live from remote locations provided via Polycom video conferencing.”

TJSL leverages Cisco’s wireless, video, telephone and infrastructure technology to create an innovative learning environment with extreme speed and access to information.

“In accordance with our goals for environmental responsibility, the Cisco network and phone system were partially selected for their ability to intelligently manage power usage, said Cooper. “For example, when wireless radios are not in use, they can automatically be powered down until needed.”

Dean Rudy Hasl is extremely proud of TJSL’s migration to all of this new technology.

“I appreciate the IT department’s dedication to perfection while working on a variety of issues, including the student/faculty printing, completion of the installation of the cloud network, development of the interactive touch screens, helping to design and implement the security system and cameras, processing all the student and staff ID cards, hooking up and operationalizing the new phone system, converting some software systems for student records and financial reporting, and for handling the normal set of issues when classes started,” he said.

TJSL’s advanced technology earned a prestigious nod from the community when CIO James Cooper was honored at San Diego Magazine’s Top Tech Exec Awards in May. He was singled out from among 127 nominated top technical executives to receive the Cox Business Exemplary Award presented to out-of-the-box innovators.

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