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Grade A Technology Infrastructure Enables Education Transformation

SOS and StudentsFirst Team Up for Education Reform

 "Overall SOS as a partner has been outstanding. They are a diverse crew of talented enigeers who know Cisco technology well and are flexible in the way they deploy it. They understand me, my expectations and how we can work together to quickly overcome technology challenges as they arise.

 Mike Walter

IT Director, StudentsFirst



Improving the American education system is the driving force behind StudentsFirst, a non-profit started by former Washington D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.  The grassroots organization, founded in 2010, puts the needs of students first by ensuring great teachers, great schools and more effective use of public funds.  Thanks to collaboration between IT firm SOS and StudentsFirst IT Director Mike Walter, StudentsFirst now has the technology and services to continue driving its growing movement.



StudentsFirst relocated its headquarters to a vacant office in Sacramento, Calif. in March of 2012.  As a non-profit, StudentsFirst was seeking to optimize its IT spending without constraining its ability to grow.

The SOS project team, under guidance from StudentsFirst IT Director, Mike Walter, implemented a stable network infrastructure and industry-leading Cisco Unified Communications platform. 

"SOS possesses a robust and comprehensive technology expertise and a strong service-oriented culture that we were looking for to ensure a smooth transition to the new office and for ongoing operations," said Walter.

The system supports the StudentsFirst immediate need for wireless connectivity, security and unified communications, while enabling it to cost effectively scale as future needs dictate. Technology has helped the organization accelerate its movement, which has grown to more than 18 member states in just over two years, and they continue to expand.


Mobility: Supporting a highly collaborative culture

Key to the project was enabling the staff to conduct business seamlessly from anywhere within the office and external to the office.  While approximately two thirds of the staff connects from within the office, another third connects remotely. In the design phase, the SOS team carefully assessed the floor plan to ensure comprehensive wireless coverage.  Then, using the Cisco Unified Communications platform, SOS deployed a local area network (LAN) that supports the variety of devices StudentsFirst colleagues use in their environment.

"Although we have approximately 150 people connecting to the network, it's conceivable that as many as 300 devices can connect at any given time including laptops, mobile phones, and tablets," said Walter.  "We needed a robust and reliable infrastructure."

StudentsFirst colleagues also collaborate via Cisco's WebEx platform. The organization has a diverse group of talented individuals including education professionals, administrators, lawyers, policy makers and political influencers whose collective expertise, along with collaborative technology, are enabling the movement's rapid growth.

"Our aim is to give colleagues the technology and bandwidth to do whatever they need to be successful," said Walter.


Efficiency: Unified messaging enables faster response

SOS telephony experts designed a unified communications system that enabled users instant single point access to all communications.  Voice messages arrive in the email inbox making it easier for StudentsFirst colleagues to quickly mobilize their growing membership and get up to the minute information on policies affecting their cause.  With the Cisco Unified Communications platform, mobile colleagues never miss a call because a single telephone number can simultaneously ring other devices, including cell phones.

Walter explained that in addition to accessing typical business applications, colleagues consume high quality video and audio. As part of their mission to influence policy and legislation concerning education, colleagues monitor numerous news feeds.  Walter said that it's not unusual to have as many as a dozen or more colleagues simultaneously streaming online TV and radio. 

"In addition to using technology to increase membership, staying on top of the news cycle is paramount to our mission at StudentsFirst," said Walter. "Technology enables our colleagues to not only stay on top of what's being said and done relative to education, but also to respond quickly and support initiatives that further our cause, or take a stand against those activities that inhibit our mission," he adds.


Up-Time: Optimizing Cisco Infrastructure through SOS Partnership

A 20-year veteran IT infrastructure and operations veteran, Walter designed the system to deliver the capabilities required to meet business goals and ensure that IT investments directly enabled the cause.  That led him to a hybrid approach.  He decentralized and placed many services into the cloud to enable greater mobility and flexibility for colleagues.  At the same time, he brought some systems, such as Unified Communications, on premise to be able to better control reliability and expansion for future organization needs.

"It was a no-brainer to go with Cisco for its robust and reliable phone system and UCS. It helps me sleep at night knowing that I don't have to worry about what's going on with my in-house network," said Walter.  He added, "We looked at every solution out there and costs worked out to be about the same; but Cisco provides more flexibility for the future. So if we need to expand, our core Cisco system can extend and connect."

What does keep Walter awake at night is security threats such as Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. He relies on SOS managed services for security, firewalling and ongoing IT monitoring.  A non-profit, StudentsFirst doesn’t have the funding to maintain a large in-house IT staff.  SOS acts as a virtual IT staff leveraging its extensive Cisco expertise and experience to support StudentsFirst.

"Overall SOS as a partner has been outstanding. They are a diverse crew of talented engineers who know Cisco technology well and are flexible in the way they deploy it. They understand me, my expectations and how we can work together to quickly overcome technology challenges as they arise" said Walter. 

He explained that the on first day in the new office, they were operating "business as usual" before lunch thanks to SOS who went so far as to place an engineer on site to ensure a successful first day. Several months later, StudentsFirst experienced an outage. The system went into failover mode and no one was without service.  SOS went on site and within minutes had the system up and running with full functionality. "This is the kind of responsiveness that SOS brings to the table," said Walter.

Technology is enabling a noble cause through the dedicated people at StudentsFirst, and SOS is helping the StudentsFirst team continue the momentum.


About StudentsFirst

StudentsFirst is a bipartisan grassroots movement of more than 2 million members nationwide, working to focus our education system on what's best for students. Today, too many of America's children are not getting the quality education they need and deserve. StudentsFirst is helping to change that with common sense reforms that help make sure all students have great schools and great teachers. We are working to ensure educators are valued for the critical role they play in kids’ lives, families have high-quality school choices and a real say in their child's education, and our tax dollars are spent wisely on what works for kids. Launched by former Washington D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee in December 2010, StudentsFirst has successfully helped pass more than 110 student-centered policies in 18 states, and our movement continues to grow. For more information visit


About SOS

SOS helps organizations leverage advanced communications technology to serve customers better, work smarter, and increase profits.  SOS is a nationwide expert in voice and data solutions for business, including Voice over IP (VoIP).  Since 1992, hundreds of businesses have chosen the SOS team for unified communications, collaboration, contact center technology, and network solutions.  SOS clients typically experience 100% return on investment within 2 to 12 months of solution go-live. 

SOS is a Cisco Certified Premier Partner. On staff are Cisco Certified Voice Professionals (CCVPs), Cisco Certified Design Professionals (CCDPs), Cisco Certified Security Professionals (CCSPs), Cisco Certified Network Professionals (CCNPs), Cisco Certified Network Associates (CCNAs), and Cisco Certified Design Associates (CCDAs). Specializations include:

•             Advanced Unified Communications

•             Express Foundation

•             Advanced Switching and Routing

•             Unified Computing Technology (Data Center)

•             TelePresence Video SMB

•             WebEx TelePresence

SOS shares its expertise through free, on-demand audio summaries, business briefs, and two newsletters – all accessible at SOS is headquartered near Sacramento, California.  To learn more visit or call 916-632-8800 x 1711.