Animals to sleep through zoo's big tech upgrade

New systems to aid animals and the public alike

The 85 tigers and other big cats at the Carnivore Preservation Trust (CPT) in Pittsboro, North Carolina, may scarcely notice the hubbub, but a US$500,000 communications and computing upgrade is under way to help tell their story to the world.

IBM and Cisco Systems began installing new gear about three weeks ago at the wildlife sanctuary. In the first phase of the project, servers and voice-over-IP phones have been installed to give the full-time staff of 10 an alternative to a patchwork of donated PCs, printers and an old phone system that relied on answering machines, said Pam Fulk, CPT's executive director.

Web browsing and word processing functions have been so slow "that I can press a 'next' key and have time to do my nails while I'm waiting for the page to come up," Fulk joked in an interview.

The older systems are still running alongside new storage and servers, enabling an online database from a third-party provider to be brought in-house. It is still too early to compare the efficiencies of the new system, Fulk said, although she expects productivity will improve. "People used to come and tell us we were out of memory because our systems are a patchwork and include cast-offs, but now we don't have to worry about it," she said.

The CPT's central mission of caring for rescued animals will get a lot more attention after the second and third phases of the project are completed during the next two years, Fulk said. In 2008, an online video surveillance system will be installed to monitor the animals and perimeter security. In 2009, the CPT plans to use the new system to bring streaming video to its Web site, to be used to further its efforts to educate the public about saving endangered animals.

"I'm really excited about the educational potential of the technology," she said. "The next couple of phases will help us provide more outreach."

The CPT, a nonprofit operation, runs on an annual budget of about US$600,000, of which about US$200,000 is donated food for the animals. A 10-person staff works with 100 volunteers who help care for the animals on a 55-acre site.

Fulk said she realizes how fortunate her small nonprofit is to get such a large donation. CPT chairman Rick McGee is a former IBM manager and his wife, Wendy McGee, continues to work at IBM and recently joined an adoption program for one of the animals.

In addition to IBM System x servers, the upgrade includes new hard drive storage and a Cisco Unified Communications system, with about 10 IP phones, softphones and voice mail, the two companies and Fulk said.

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