Jan 15 2009

Above the Drone

Bee Cave, Texas, gets things buzzing with Gig-E unified voice and data.

Bee Cave, Texas, gets things buzzing with Gig-E unified voice and data.

It’s one of the most technologically advanced, well-planned U.S. cities that you’ve never heard of. Despite its proximity to the Texas state capital — Austin — and its above-average income and education, it remains largely anonymous. But a hive of activity is bringing Bee Cave out of the shadows.

Technologically speaking, the city’s relative youth — incorporated in 1987, it is 14 years younger than the average city resident — has served it well. Bee Cave can spend less time ripping up old gear and more time deploying new equipment.

Tech Prowess

And deploy it does: No fewer than five major projects are under way, including a wireless mesh rollout and an overhaul of a regional library system that already accommodates more than 6,000 members — almost three times the number of Bee Cave residents.

For anyone with doubts, a job posting for a systems administrator in Bee Cave sums up the excitement: “FIRE-EATERS WANTED (Apply Within). Are you high- speed, low-drag, Teflon-coated, guaranteed not to bend, bust, rust, or collect dust? … The City of Bee Cave has more infrastructure and exciting flavors of technology than any other municipality our size, and our growth is unprecedented. This is a rare opportunity to be on the ground floor of an electrifying ride where your experience matters. Candidate position reports directly to the CTO.”

Overkill? No, just good preparation for a city whose suburban population is expected to swell by more than 100,000 people over the next 25 years, says Richard Reynolds, Bee Cave’s chief technology officer. “We need to make sure our investments are prudent,” he says. “We look at performance more than ever.”

First, there is the city’s unified voice and data solution. Integrating Voice over IP with Microsoft Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2007 Unified Messaging, it lets city employees access voice and written communications wherever they are. For example, building and health inspectors can access and file reports online.

Twenty-two applications run on 18 servers scattered between City Hall and the Police Department. Most of the apps, with the exception of Microsoft Office 2007, are accessed remotely using Citrix XenApp. The communications take place across a Gigabit Ethernet network between police headquarters and City Hall, located in the Hill Country Galleria shopping mall about 1,500 feet away. A site-to-site microwave, perched on a 65-foot tower, serves as a backup link. The new connection between the buildings raised the data throughput to 1,250 megabits per second from just 3Mbps on the former leased telephone lines.

Large bandwidth is important for another reason: a surge in e-mail and other data traffic that coincided with the surge in population and vehicular traffic in the triangle of land between Texas Highway 71 and U.S. Route 290. Last year, city staff received about 45,000 e-mail messages. This year, they received nearly 4 million, much of it spam.

Communications Overhaul

The unified solution represents another step in the city’s communications evolution. Just four years ago, Bee Cave replaced its analog phone lines with a T1 line and a new digital VoIP phone system. This more than doubled the number of phone lines to City Hall. Bee Cave also replaced its aging cable modem with a fiber-optic connection.

The city’s Public Safety Department has received its share of upgrades as well, including new in-car video units and a computer-aided dispatch system, now under development. Bee Cave doesn’t have its own dispatcher; emergency calls route to the nearby city of Lakeway, whose dispatcher calls Bee Cave patrol cars by two-way radio. Recently, Bee Cave completed an upgrade to an in-car camera system that can capture video in low light and stream video to the Public Safety Department’s command group for review and action. Early this year, the department intends to upgrade its records management and dispatch systems as part of a joint effort with Lakeway.

“It’s been a lot of fun to be part of a growth organization, where it’s easy to be more agile, and our mayor and council have been extremely forward-thinking in their approach,” Reynolds says.

Hive of Activity at The Library

  • 8,500 books
  • Overdue book fees: 10 cents per day; maximum $5 per item
  • 50 magazines and newspapers
  • Unabridged audio books
  • Free wireless Internet access, and public computers with Internet access
  • Free 24-hour access to the state’s TexShare databases

To learn more about the library, continue down page.

Bee Cave Library Turns a Page

Wired facility’s thin clients and collection appeal to patrons.

If you’re looking for something worth checking out at the Bee Cave, Texas, library, you might want to start with the library itself — it’s unusual. For starters, it’s located on the second floor of City Hall, which in turn is in the center of an upscale, mixed-use development that includes retail, office and residential space. It’s also well wired, particularly for a library located in a town with fewer than 2,200 residents. Here’s a sample of what visitors find:

Public Computing

The library has 12 public thin-client workstations on which patrons can browse the Internet, shop online, prepare résumés, search job listings, check e-mail or visit social networking sites.

The 12 thin clients, consisting of a keyboard, monitor and mouse, are arranged in a circle and attached to two PCs operating as miniservers. The city IT staff configured the setup, which runs Userful Desktop, a Linux public-computer operating system. “The most frequently used applications are Internet browsers and the Open Office suite,” says Library Director Barbara Hathaway. “Some visit to take an online exam to be proctored by the library.”

Widespread Access

Patrons have web access to certain databases to which the library subscribes. Some are open to anyone, such as TumbleBooks, a provider of electronic books for kids. Others require a patron logon and password, such as the TexShare databases, which are provided to the Bee Cave library at minimal cost by the Texas State Library and are for use only by Texas residents. TexShare consists of more than 50 databases, covering a wide variety of topics, from health and medicine to literature and consumer research.

Lots of Company

The library currently has 6,031 members, of whom 1,039 are residents of Bee Cave. One year ago, before moving to the new location from a leased, modular building next to the old City Hall, the library had only 1,774 members. “Because of our increased visibility, and because we don’t charge a nonresident fee, we are adding new members at an astonishing rate,” says Hathaway.

Online Browsing

The public can access the library’s online public access catalog (OPAC) and their personal library account in the library database. Those accessing OPAC remotely (pl.beecavetexas.gov) can search by title, author or subject. They can also access various library collections and a password-protected site to see what items they have checked out, renew or place a hold on items, or see when their materials are due back.

“One of the most exciting things about our new location is that we get many adults coming in who say that they haven’t used a library in 20 years, but happened to see us and decided to take a look,” says Hathaway. “Most are very pleasantly surprised by the range of materials we have available, including audio books, DVDs and online databases as well as books, magazines and newspapers.”