Desktop as a Service

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)?

We’re getting so impatient

The term Rat Race was originally coined in the 1930s – a dance to jazz music. It probably had nothing to do with the metaphor we use today which a quick Google suggests originated around the 1950s… Any advance on this is welcome.

But never has our need to keep up in this fast paced world been so great as today. I mean, the first thing I want to do when I boot up my computer is get on the internet and check my email, social networking sites and so on. Spare me the wait while all the unnecessary stuff chugs away loading up. I like a cup of tea to kick start my day, but seriously, my computer doesn’t need to wait while I make one!

Cup of Tea

And so, Michael Hart has made unofficial instant versions of Google Maps and Google Images to help satisfy our desire for instant everything; once our devices have finally booted up and found their way onto the internet that is. They are quick and get quicker still as the graphics cache on your device.

Have a look at Instant Images @ http://cdn.michaelhart.me/mh/instant_images/ and Instant Maps @ http://hartlabs.net/instant_maps/

Does desire drive destiny?

It is interesting to read that smart phones now grab a 25% share of the US mobile market – up 2% in the last quarter. The Nielsen Company predicts that sales will overtake traditional mobile phones by the end of 2011. This is fast paced change no doubt encouraged over the past few years by the media hyped iPhone and swell that is social networking.

Smart Phone Growth Q2 2010

This trend goes hand in hand with recent figures that show Facebook to dominate the lives of mobile internet users in the UK. In December 2009 about 16 million UK citizens accessed the internet from their mobile phones and nearly half of the traffic was to Facebook!

But surprisingly it is not Apples iPhone and iOS that is dominating the pack. Google’s Android OS is fast gaining market share ahead of Google’s own predictions.

“Google’s Android OS has shown the most significant expansion in market share among current subscribers. Android’s rise is even more noticeable among new smartphone subscribers in the last six months where Android has nosed past Apple’s iOS in the last quarter to grab a 27% share of those recent smartphone subscribers.” The Nielsen Company

But does desire drive destiny?

Despite Android’s apparent boom time, 90% of existing iPhone users and a significant 21% of Android users most desire an iPhone as their next device. It is difficult to draw any conclusions other than on price points. Apple’s marketing machine is arguably the strongest and the brand simply oozes iconic cool, ease and IT just works ( dodgy reception aside ;)).

But quite clearly, if the trends are anything to go by, in these fraught global economic times desire alone isn’t enough to sustain market dominance. HTC may well have pulled a clever marketing coup in calling their Android powered popular iPhone alternative the Desire?

Next desired smart phone OS

I don’t see the battle between the giants that are Google and Apple spelling the demise of the Blackberry just yet… Businesses that are serious about security and device management have little choice but to continue with Blackberry.

Smart Phones – a serious contender for everyday productivity & learning..?

Small is beautiful! But is it really practical?

I rely on being connected with access to my key apps, communication tools and unlimited supply of information – increasingly location specific. I’m also (slowly) trying to reduce the amount of stuff and clutter that I have, both at home and when out and about. I’ll always aspire to the minimalist way of life but acknowledge that this will never be a reality 😉

So, if it is a given that the ‘manbag’ is now as acceptable as the male handbag in our cosmopolitan existence, then this is a good starting point for stuff limitation.

Indiana Jones with his Manbag

Indiana Jones with his Manbag

My starting point back in 2006 was a manbag capable of housing a Samsung Q1, mobile phone and wallet. Although smaller than a standard laptop bag, with dimensions to support a 15-17″ device, my look was bulky and still reasonably weighty. I could link the mobile phone up to the Q1 to get a vague shot at internet access – the phone, a Samsung D400, alone was a no hoper on the web and apps front despite being the latest and supposedly greatest at the time.

Samsung Q1 and D400

Samsung Q1 and D400

And ultimately, the Q1 was not a heap better. The screen resolution was just not up to scratch and the battery life, although good compared to your standard laptops of the time, barely managed a couple of hours after a year’s regular use.As soon as it was possible for me to do so, I had moved back to a laptop – a Dell 430 which was about as small as I deemed practically feasible at the time. In the mobile stakes it proved pretty useless after a short while with dreadful battery life the main problem. Didn’t fit the manbag either!

Dell D430

Dell D430

Then came the Samsung NC10. Ultra mobile perfection when it arrived and still holds its own today! A usable screen, keyboard and awesome battery life that has not seemingly diminished in over 2 years of use! Plenty of connectivity options to boot and extremely well built. I firmly believe that the NC10 and its successors and imitators are currently the only way to go in the classroom, mobile working and just plain old social-wise.

Samsung NC10

Samsung NC10

And now comes the SMART phone. And I say now despite the existence of this marketplace for quite some time. It is really only over the past few years that these devices have become a practical mobile alternative to supporting short burst communication and productivity tasks. I started with the Blackberry Bold 9000… I wasn’t ready for touch screen and found the excellent keyboard and track-pad reassuring and surprisingly nimble to use. So, here I was in a position to downsize the manbag – well most of the time – email was a doddle, Facebook kept me socially connected and a decent web browser teamed with manageable screen size and GPS gave me access to most of the info that I needed most of the time. Battery life was also good enough – I’m quite happy for the overnight charging routine! Where the Bold fell down at the time was around the apps available and their true ease of use within the screen real estate and keyboard navigation.

iPhone 4_& HTC Desire

iPhone 4 & HTC Desire

With great trepidation (for me anyway), I took the slightly more expensive plunge for the iPhone 4… The closest competition seemed to be the HTC Desire with Google Android OS. Reviews suggested that there was little between the two; the main being that the iPhone just worked, was intuitive and had the best wealth and integration of apps. The Android OS gives you more geek factor in terms of getting under the bonnet.

I’m hooked! I can’t say that the iPhone replaces my little Samsung NC10. But it’s a 40/60 % split in use between the two. The iPhone is spot on for short tasks like viewing and small edits with Google Apps and other office tools.  I’m posting on WordPress, Twitter and Facebook. Photo stuff is a breeze with Flickr and Facebook. Dropbox and ZumoDrive keep everything stored and synchronised. And that’s without the many, many other apps that float my boat! Internet access with location services, music, talking and so on is all without effort – and I can go on a bit on the talking front! The option to pinch and zoom and switch between portrait and landscape at the flick of a wrist makes for a strong case for the size being really practical. Battery life still fits with the overnight charge regime and that’s despite comparatively far greater use.

More time spent with some of the apps that could be relevant to education is now needed to round this article off!

A little more on Jolicloud…

So, I’ve been using Jolicloud on a USB stick for a couple of weeks now; I wouldn’t say in anger, but that’s mainly ‘cos I’m not an angry person. I’ve been using it primarily to demonstrate the concept of a slim web focussed OS that is totally portable. So far it runs up nicely on all 7 of the different desktops, laptops and Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPC) that I have tried. No driver probs to note thus far. I’m yet to have a go at setting to read only… I’m using Dropbox and ZumoDrive for online synchronised storage – also good so far. One massive boon is that Jolicloud fully synchronises your desktop with an identical online version; all web apps, favourites and other useful personal settings are also replicated. So, if I mislay my USB stick, or cant use it with a device, I can still work. The only things missing in the online version of my desktop are local drives and legacy apps – locally installed apps. But hey, this is just motivation to use online storage and web apps. The whole point!

Another yay for Jolicloud. Very keen to see where Chrome OS goes now.

Jolicloud Vs Google Chrome OS

I have been eagerly awaiting the Google Chrome Operating System Release Candidate since it was announced on the 7th July 2009.  Over a year on and where are we Google? There is talk that the OS will only be available to work with specific devices. This would be a real blow and kind of distracts from the device agnostic nirvana that I’m seeking…

So, I was very interested to stumble across Jolicloud – a ‘cloud’ OS that has been making waves – or letting the sunshine through – with what seems to be a direct competitor to Chrome OS.

On the face of it there seems to be very little to distinguish the two OS’. They are both optimised for web use and target the netbook or lower spec devices; low power, 10″ screens, moderate graphics, high portability, etc. Both OS’ are based upon Linux and thus wide open to the Open Source developer community. Continuing this story of ‘twin peeps’ further similarities are:

  • Both work with web apps;
  • Both get updates and bug fixes on boot;
  • File storage is mostly in the cloud;
  • Both are based around the web browser – in fact Jolicloud’s default browser is Google Chrome and it will have full Google WebStore app running functionality!

However, there is one clear advantage in that Jolicloud has a ready to go, easy to install, flash drive configuration! Will Chrome OS give us this independence?

Cool video from Google

This video nicely sums up where the desktop is going…

A colleague and I have some ideas about how this could be taken to the next level to further reduce support and maintenance… I’ll post soon.