Tech Report

Date: March 16, 2009
To: Michael Green
From: Steve Rippl
Subject: Tech Dept. Executive Summary

Planning is afoot for turning Aaron's room into a computer lab over the Spring Break and getting some more student computers into Mark Knudson's room. Both will be pioneering using Linux for their operating system in their respective schools. We'll be bringing back some computers that were taken out because they're too slow with windows on, but that we know run well with Linux on.

OpenOffice has now been deployed at all the schools except Yale and TEAM. We've found a version that performs better than our initial choice, and we're learning about how it operates and some of the pitfalls, that we can now begin to compensate for. Another big advantage to moving to OpenOffice (apart from the price!) is that it runs natively on Linux. This means that students will be using the same applications (Firefox, OpenOffice, their various web-based apps) whatever operating system they're sitting in front of.

"Server virtualization" is the IT buzz-word for this month! I mentioned last month we are in the process of moving some of our ancillary servers off of desktop hardware an onto real server hardware (for increased reliability, reduce heating in our portable and to free up those desktop machines to be used in the classrooms). Well, server virtualization is the ability to put multiple servers into a single physical machine, which is possible because of the new software available and the fact that hardware performance has increased so dramatically recently. We've already taken an old Dell server of ours (which used to run a single Windows server) and put 2 Linux servers into it (which require less hardware resources). We're purchasing a single new server that will be capable of running at least 4 or 5 servers inside it (Windows and Linux) that is costing less than a Dell server cost us 5 years ago which would run a single server. Then you also get on-going benefits with the reduced power consumption of the machine and the reduction in heat produced (the new server has a 700W power supply, the same as a high end desktop, and it's running 4 or 5 servers!). The software we're using for this is an open source product called Xen, that just happened to be developed at the University of Cambridge (very close to where I grew up!). It's been adopted by Citrix and is used in the Enterprise, but because of it's open source roots we still have access to it for free.

On a final note we had a two teachers in the Intermediate School (Vicky Noyes and Kim Knudson) collaborated on a video conference with NASA on the physics of flight, and reports are that it went very well and the students got a lot from it. There will be another one soon called "Where in Washington" that Kim and Alison Daun hope to take part in. The video equipment bought by my predecessor Sherra has certainly had a satisfyingly steady use, both for staff training/conference purposes and student participation.