How much ICT infrastructure does a school really need to manage?

Let’s just start with servers…

A quick tally of the number and types of servers a typical secondary school might have sitting in a dedicated, no doubt air-conditioned, room resulted in this visual…

School Server Infrastructure Today

School Server Infrastructure Today

And a few of the disadvantages of this approach might be:

  • Some poor soul has to keep all of these running and somehow manage stay an up to date expert across a wide-ranging set of server services.
  • Each server is most likely running 24/7/365 at an average of around 200 watts – roughly £2.5k per annum in electricity bills alone and that’s quite a smelly carbon footprint to boot.

Provider: Scottish Power (Tariff: Premier Plus online, London)
Rate: 11.252 pence per kilowatt/hour
Rate last checked: 10th Sept 2009

And that’s without going down the whole maintenance and replacement, licensing and support costs. Nor factoring in stuff like resilience and security…

What if today looked something like this..?

School Infrastructure Today?

School Infrastructure Today?

A few of the advantages might be:

  • High availability resulting in high teacher confidence in the ‘invisible’ ICT.
  • Much lower total cost of ownership – subscription based access to services that you need and when you need them.
  • Flexible – add new and remove unwanted services with ease.
  • More space – no more dedicated server room.
  • Sweeter smelling carbon footprint.
  • Access from anywhere and at any time 🙂

Yeah right… But how do people login to the network?

They don’t. Ideally they single sign-on (online) into the services that they have privileges to access. Look at how you can link-up your accounts on many of the popular web based apps like Google, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and so on and on and on… In education terms this would most likely look like using the UK Access Management Federation and Shibboleth for single sign-on.

But the web isn’t advanced enough yet to support all of the teaching, learning and management tools, apps and services that we need!

Sure it is! Just check out my Delicious bookmarks for a sample… Also check out Johannes Ahrenfelt’s blog for even more ideas!

Okay… But how on earth do I keep all of these disparate apps updated with the relevant info about students and staff?

How do you right now? A combination of many different and often bespoke or proprietary methods methinks? The Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) is a promising option for education services. Get involved!

Yeah but what if our connection to the internet goes down?

Get some resilience. A fail-over connection maybe? Let’s face it, with all of those servers a potential weak point, the chances are that your internet connection is far more reliable than you might think!

What do you really think? Some good debate around this is very welcome 🙂

PS Would we still need a proxy server if, as is likely, most of the web traffic is encrypted across Secure Socket Layer (SSL) (port 443 / https)?

5 Responses to How much ICT infrastructure does a school really need to manage?

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  • @rherron says:

    In St Aidans the only servers maintained are f&p for school mgmt and database for running Serco Facility/ePortal. Students and teachers use Moodle, hosted offsite, and google apps. One further server is maintained for storing laptop system images for the 600+ laptops in use in the school, full true one to one computing. Cloning and imaging is handled using Clonezilla.

    • Hey – thanks for the feedback 🙂

      Sounds like a progressive setup and useful to hear what different schools are doing. Have you looked into / had any experience with SIF for provisioning Moodle? We’re now provisioning Google Apps via SIF which is working well.

      Another area I’m looking at is the potential for a read only operating System – something ‘slim’ and focussed upon web apps like Google Chrome OS or Jolicloud. Storage would be online and potentially no need for a hard disk – ROM or USB driven. This saves on the need for antivirus, etc., and distils the maintenance of the device down to hardware only. Just at the early stages right now but interested in your view.

  • Geoff says:

    I’m sorry, but this article is at best hopelessly naieve. Yes, in an ideal world it would be possible to migrate service out to ‘the cloud’ but the majority of schools enjoy very tailored, very specific networks that have been designed and evolved to suit the nature of the environment.

    This article seems to suggest that there is a largely a ‘one size fits all’ approach where a few options can magically fulfil an entire institutions’ needs and I am afraid that regardless of the very basic arguments listed here, the technology is NOT ready and more importantly neither are users, teachers and school management for such mass upheaval and change.

  • Thanks for the feedback Geoff. I may be a terrible optimist, but hopefully not too Naïve. I’m certainly not suggesting a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. Indeed, I think that ‘cloud’ combined with open standards for interoperability and access wedge the door open for far greater flexibility and local control. Forget the significant potential financial and ‘green’ savings for the moment… I agree that we are all different – the World would be so dull otherwise – schools, businesses, each of us! But I’m pretty sure that we have some common goals when it comes to our “tailored, very specific networks”. Security, availability, resilience, etc… I’d be really interested in some examples that we might debate..?

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