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[school-discuss] Manage the diversity (Was: Re: How to buy fleets?)

on Fri, Apr 29, 2005 at 04:43:37PM -0700, Kevin Shira (kevins@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx) wrote:
> This may be slightly off-topic, but I think it's a question we've all 
> pondered.  With school budgets what they are, how can we mimic the 
> private sector and buy computers by the fleet?
> If you singlehandedly manage dozens of different hardware/software 
> configurations (as I do), you spend all your time putting out fires. 
> But if I could manage a fleet or two, I'd have time to do important 
> things - like write code, upgrade network infrastructure, and educate 
> teachers.

There's two angles to dealing with motley LANs.

One is to try to standardize your HW.

The other is to try to manage the diversity.

Scrapping everything and starting over is always conceptually
attractive.  In practice, it rarely happens.

Thin-client, centrally-managed, and database-backed systems each have
much to commend themselves.  In combination they can be a powerful
strategy.  Just a few ideas to get the ball rolling:

  - Thin-client (LTSP, Knoppix-terminal-server, or similar) based
    systems put all state on servers.  For your clients, your both
    minimize HW issues (no disks, less yeat) and eliminate state.
    Failed units are pulled and a drop-in replacement put in -- minutes,
    not hours to restore service -- and the failed unit is repaired as
    time allows.  Central management also means that user
    configurations, application sets, and security issues are
    centralized in one place.

  - Central management can include stateful clients, but configurations
    are again managed centrally.  NFS- or SMB- mounted drives are one
    option.  This distributes processing, but again keeps user state
    central.  Similarly, an advantage of Debian-based distros (Debian,
    Ubuntu, Xandros, etc.), is that a given system's package load and
    configuration can be handled on a largely automated basis.  It's
    trivial to extract a package list, configuration files, and
    hardware-specific settings.
  - Database-backed management also raises interesting possibilities.
    One interesting tool mentioned in this month's IRC meeting was
    'unattended' (http://unattended.sourceforge.net/), which allows
    restoring of legacy MS Windows system via a GNU/Linux-based system.
    euclid, who mentioned this, keeps a database, indexed by MAC, to
    guide his restoration.   I've got my own tools to track system
    configuration (system-info script) which could similarly be indexed
    by MAC for restoration issues.

> Our district buys a few computers every year.  There's got to be a way
> to buy a lot of computers every few years.  But financing in our state
> (California) makes it seemingly impossible, except in the largest
> districts.
> The only thing I've thought of is going the refurb route - but that
> still doesn't allow for the number of machines I'd like.  Plus, with
> new machines going for under $500, there's got to be another way.
> Any ideas?

Not to burst bubbles, but I see this as an unlikley (though appealing)
dream.  I'd look at better managing the present reality.


Karsten M. Self <kmself@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>        http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
    Of course Ms DiDio, a friend and former co-worker of Darl McBride's, is
    deeply involved in SCO's Microsoft financed attack against Linux, so any
    paper on Linux she endorses should be disregarded out of hand.
    - Andrew Grygus

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