Hewlett-Packard is to provide and manage the infrastructure for an electronic learning project for the Northern Ireland's Department of Education, in a $100m (£64m) deal.
The Classroom 2000 project (C2K) will give e-mail addresses to 350,000 children and teachers in Northern Ireland's 1,200 schools, and access to digital resources including virtual classrooms and online libraries of curriculum content.
The initial contract covers the establishment of a data centre in Belfast, housing the computers for the centralised system, plus teams of educational specialists and HP staff, said Clifford Harris, HP's account manager for the deal.
"This is a very different approach by government in that they're centralising the service received by schools. There's a lot of technology out in schools and this is trying to join them up and deliver the same data to everyone," Harris said.
HP has worked with the province's Department of Education in networking the PCs within each school and there is one desktop available for each four or five pupils. Each teacher will also have an HP laptop.
C2K should be running in schools within six months, Harris said.
Teachers and pupils will be able to exchange e-mail and text messages, and talk via video conference. This will be particularly useful for pupils who are unable to attend school because of illness or severe weather, so long as they have a computer at home.
Pupils will also be able to work on joint projects across schools and education authorities.
A collaboration tool will let teachers upload and share any lesson plans that they develop, and take elements of other lessons for their own teaching.
C2K is a 10-year initiative and one of the largest installations of Microsoft Exchange implemented so far, HP said.
HP will work with two partners, Hyperwave and Amaze. Hyperwave will provide its eKnowledge Infrastructure e-learning software, which is easy to adapt for different age and ability levels. E-learning company Amaze will develop the portals for the project.
The Department of Education and other providers such as Granada and the BBC will be responsible for the content itself.
HP expects the project to be worth $300m (£192m) over the next five years. This will come from developments to the system, such as life-long learning offerings for adults in Northern Ireland.