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NDATL

The end of this week I came down to the NDATL conference in Fargo.  It’s a good time to listen to what other people are doing in the state and gives me ideas about what to do…and what not to do.  My main concern for Bottineau is to get the best bang for the buck.  We do not have the resources (my time and school’s money) to be cutting edge on most things.  My methodology has been to let other larger schools blaze the path then either choose to follow or do something else based on their success/failure.

I’ve spent the past few years playing catchup with Bottineau’s tech profile.  The big job I had to do immediately after starting was bring the network up to an acceptable performance level.  The first big-ticket item was the wireless.  To proceed with any technology initiative a solid enterprise quality wifi is a must.  I chose to go with Ruckus wireless due to their cost/performance ratio.  I believe the ruckus system itself is a really solid product.  It was supposed to be an easy product to deploy…but for our configuration it didn’t turn out so easy.  I spent quite a bit of time per machine setting things up…but it is setup and works well.

This past year I went back to further address network issues.  I configured radius and open directory services to use for authentication across our network.  Along with this, I’ve configured network home directories for users.  Network home directories along with open directory (and radius for wifi) allows our users (in my case students) the ability to log in to the network as themselves and be presented with their own desktop.  Currently when a machine boots up it logs in as  “Student” user and that’s the login everyone uses.  The main issue with this is saving work and students messing with another student’s work.  With the network home model, each student has their own space on a backend server where they can store everything.  This introduces redundancy as well as security.

This will also be used for instructors/staff, but in a little different manor.  The instructor laptops are/will be setup with a mobile profile.  They need to be able to login as themselves when they are not on the school network.  They will have the option later, once they are on the school’s network, to hit the “sync” option.  This pushes a copy of their home directory to the server…which would give them a redundant backup solution.  This would also allow them to “sync” information between their desktop and laptop machine.  It’s a little cumbersome, so I haven’t set it up as mandatory…it’s a “click if you want to” option, which is currently hidden from the user.

The next step in this process is going to be an upgrade to the wired network.  Currently, between switches we are stuck with a 100mbit connection.  This causes quite a few bottle necks.  It is semi tolerable now…but when we have students all logging in and running off a network drive, it’s going to grind the network to a halt.  I’m hoping to get this done over the summer…but we’ll see how the numbers work out.

There are tons of other things I do, but those are the biggies behind the scenes…which are all building to one main goal, a 1 to 1 initiative.  I’m not sure exactly when we will get there…I’m hoping we pilot the project with 1 grade within the next 3 years.  After the wired network is upgraded, the infrastructure is going to be in place to handle the load.  From there it comes down to developing policies and procedures…all the things that will get a project stuck in the weeds for quite a long time.

All that brings me back to the NDATL conference.  It is really surprising to me how many resources the bigger schools have to devote to their technical initiatives.  Unfortunately, we’re not going to have those kinds of resources to throw at this…so I need to really take the time to make sure all the backed services are ready to handle the chaos.  Also, the people involved are going to have to realize there is going to be chaos, we have to understand that something this new and radically different from what we have done in the past is going to cause bumps and bruises…but that’s O.K.  We will learn from each mistake and get better as we go forward.