By Prudence Brighton
When Nathan Guilmette was hired two years ago as Dracut's information-technology specialist, town departments were on different computer networks managed by different people, with inefficiencies the natural result.
"Since then, we've made a lot of great changes," Guilmette said.
The changes started with running fiber-optic cables to and from town buildings.
"That really opened up possibilities," he said.
Now the network operates more efficiently and with greater security. With those improvements, the network has gone from six servers in the basement of Town Hall to two.
For the first time, the Council on Aging is part of the town network. In addition, the fire stations are now connected to each other and Town Hall. Guilmette said the School Department is not on the town network, nor is the Moses Greeley Parker Memorial Library, which is part of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium network.
The goal is eventually to bring the School Department on to the network.
"Fire Station 2 on Jones Avenue had a Verizon Mi-Fi cloud-based system," Guilmette said.
Firefighters at this station could send and receive reports to the main station but nothing more, and response time was quite slow.
"Now there is no difference from station to station," Guilmette said. "They're all tied together. Firefighters can even do remote meetings and trainings.
It took about three months to install the fiber-optic cable, but months of network planning preceded purchasing the cable. Guilmette developed detailed specifications for the new servers.
Part of the planning included developing a disaster-recovery plan that details how to recover and restore town operations and activities in the event of disaster. That includes making sure the town's records are protected. As part of the plan, the old servers will provide backup and recovery support.
According to Ann Vandal, assistant town manager and finance director, the overall cost of the network upgrade was $1.2 million, but the town offset those costs through grants. The net cost to the town was $400,000. And the town had been putting money into a technology stabilization fund that minimized the impact on taxpayers.
The network upgrade is complete -- for the moment.
"Now it's about maintaining it and keeping up technology changes," Vandal said.