Saturday, June 14, 2008

Eliminating Servers/Best Platform for a New School

I've been watching a thread over on the ISED listserv develop over the past week or so dealing with the title of this post as the subject. It has been absolutely fascinating. The thread mostly started out as a "platform war" type of thing, but then Derrel Fincher contributed a really interesting reply earlier this week...my reply to Derrel's excellent, visionary post is included further below in this blog entry:

Just a few additional thoughts:

1. Spend on bandwidth until it hurts.
2. If you are providing laptops to students, forget about having a traditional network except for authentication, and then just let them plug into the Internet and access your printers through the Internet, and even find a hosting service for file storage. The individual platform is not so important, but a good infrastructure is.
3. Plan on eliminating all servers. Difficult, if not impossible, but go in with the ideas that you don't need them. Instead, look for hosted solutions (ASP) for your needs. Most are designed to be accessed through a browser for most functions so the platform for the majority of your users is irrelevant. For the few power users that need a client instead of a browser, buy whatever the client supports. (Hosted may look like it costs more, but you don't need IT people with really deep skills--you need those with broad skills).
4. For your clerical staff, and even many of your teachers, spring for dual monitors and put in plenty of memory. Those two together have been the biggest productivity improvement for the buck and your clerical staff will love you. (People will tell you they don't need two until they actually use two--I've only had a couple tell me to remove the second monitor.

My contribution to this thread from Friday, June 13th:

I'm amazed at the number of projects that our students and teachers have created over the past 24 months that require little to no local area network storage. I might also add that they've managed to do so using tools that are mostly free. I can't help but think that these kinds of projects will only proliferate going forward. Most of the large, media projects that our students create (movies, audio files, working on raw images) all get saved to the local hard drive of the iMacs anyway. Students then archive their finished pieces to their wikis, YouTube, DVDs, etc if they want to keep their project when they are done with it.

Most of the things that students save on network file servers include things like word files and powerpoints, and we've been transitioning the students to google docs for these types of things over the past year.

Here are a few projects that have required zero data storage on the LAN:

1. 5th grade school tour podcasts-students took pictures, wrote scripts in google docs, and then recorded their narration in garage band. With the exception of the google doc script, all media was saved to the local hard drive. Completed projects were then uploaded to my .mac account at: http://web.mac.com/mjmonty/Site/Podcast/Podcast.html

2. 7th grade booktalk voicethread projects...all media, including pictures and audio, is saved on voicethread.com. To view some of these projects, visit: http://usmenglish7.blogspot.com/2008/01/seventh-periods-book-talks.html

3. Famous Faces of Slavery projects completed by teams of 8th grade students in english class...all files saved on a wiki: http://famousfacesofslavery.wikispaces.com

4. 8th grade french class voicethread projects...students created their voicethreads and embedded them on their teacher's wiki page as a way to turn in their projects. Again, everything saved in voicethread and the wiki: http://usmfrench.wikispaces.com/Les+voicethreads

5. 8th Grade Washington DC Blog...we used this to chronicle our trip to DC this past spring. We uploaded gigs and gigs worth of photos and video to our middle school flickr account on a nightly basis. We also had a few students post cell phone photos live as they experienced the trip (this was really cool). See the blog at: http://usmdc2008.blogspot.com/

6. French class oral language samples recorded on portable voice recorders (Olympus WS110s) and posted to the class wiki: http://usmfrench.wikispaces.com/Interro+orale+15-4

7. Students in film class created an "Office" parody featuring many of the teachers at my school. They worked locally on the file and then posted to YouTube to share: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5k6pfNHQno Students in the same class did a digital story about the Lincoln's assassination with the "Captain O Captain" poem by Whitman: http://youtube.com/watch?v=QBfq_6eVzBM

8. Students in 7th grade art class worked in teams to research an artist and genre and then created a collaborative google doc presentation to share with the class.

9. For their final unit of the year in American History class, students in Chuck Taft's 8th grade US history teacher maintained their traditional 3 ring binder with a wiki. Students created oral histories, videos, voicethread stories, participated in a "Civil Rights Era Facebook Community, etc using web based tools. Project home page: http://turningpoints08.wikispaces.com/

I could go on and on and on here, but you get the point. None of these projects required any network storage at all. Derrel's idea of purchasing as much bandwidth as possible makes a great deal of sense. All of the money saved by not having to purchase expensive LAN storage systems could be diverted to paying for increased bandwidth. Perhaps even some of that could be used for professional development and/or faculty enhancement!!!

Going forward, we are currently working with a consultant to setup an off site hosted Word Press MU network which will give all interested students and teachers a blog space with powerful podcasting capabilities. After the audio files are created, students and teachers will be able to upload them to their blogs as a podcast file. The audio files will live on a server in California. This system gives us 100 GB of storage with 1 TB of monthly bandwidth throughput...all for the very reasonable cost of $600 annually!!!

I've enjoyed this thread. Thanks for sharing everyone.

Cheers!!

Matt Montagne

31 comments:

  1. Matt,

    I'm no expert, but the fact that these projects were saved off site probably made it easier for parents to access, right? In any event, I viewed almost all of these projects--providing a great way to authentically communicate to families what their kids are doing (and what they might do in a future class).

    Cindy

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