This blueprint is for small schools. For them educational technology can be a complex, confusing and costly business. It's easy to lose your focus when you are pressed from every side by vendors, committees, and the dizzying array of options in the market today. The last thing you need is an expensive-to-install, costly-to-maintain solution. Wireless is the way to go. Here's what you need to set up a small school LAN.
Why Do You Need a LAN Anyway?
A LAN is essential because you need to able to share information. What sort of information? Accounting information, student information, alumni information - any kind of information pertinent to your running a small business. You must be able to access all the information you need at any time so that you can make informed decisions without having to rely on someone else. You need to keep all this information secure as well. Only trusted staff should have access to your sensitive data.
I am not going to specify brands or 'premium' solutions. These are merely my professional recommendations for a simple, straightforward network which will work for a small to medium-sized school's needs and requirements. Your school's specific requirements will vary. Use this article as a discussion point with your committee and consultant. listen carefully to their recommendations.
Where should you buy your computer equipment? I will tell you where not to buy! Do not buy from a firm which will not stand behind your purchase. You will pay a little more when you buy from established companies, but the peace of mind is worth it.
Can you buy online? Sure! Should you? No! Always speak to a live sales representative.
Get a quote first on the shopping list which your consultant has provided you. Understand clearly what you are getting. Always specify new equipment. Refurbished and open box merchandise is too risky. Make sure you have adequate warranty coverage.
List of Equipment
You will need one each for Administration, Faculty and Students with specifications as follows:
Administration: Dual Intel Pentium servers with 2 gig of RAM and 4 x 250 gb hard drives.
Faculty: Dual Intel Pentium servers with 2 gig of RAM and 4 x 250 gb hard drives.
Students: Dual Intel Pentium servers with 2 gig of RAM and 4 x 250 gb hard drives.
Specify rackmount servers and get a IP KVM switch so you can run all of your servers from one monitor.
Buy the best equipment you can afford with the emphasis on server quality components which will take constant use and can expand to accommodate growth. You will actually realize savings over the life of the equipment in terms of Total Ownership Cost (TOC)because the equipment is good quality, scaleable and robust.
The CPU speed should be 3 ghz or higher. I have specified four hard drives on these systems so that you can mirror the drives. This adds some fault tolerance to your system. If one drive fails, the others can be activated so that your system will keep running. The failed drive can then be replaced as convenient. 1gb of RAM is the minimum requirement. If you can afford more RAM, buy it. If you can afford SCSI drives, buy them. They are more robust and generally faster.
Purchase the best service plan you can afford. You will never regret it. Systems always tend to fail when you need them most. 4 hour response times are normal in major metropolitan areas.
Backing Up Your Data
Use an offsite service which will backup up your data and store it safely for you. It is the most cost effective backup solution for a small school.
AMD or Intel desktop systems. 512 mb RAM. 80 gb harddrive. These machines can be generic PC's, as long as components are good quality and name brand.
Faculty and Student Workstations
Laptops with builtin wireless capability. The critical component with laptops is good service and support. You will need a few redundant systems because laptops are typically sent to a repair facility for servicing. This can take a machine off line for 2-3 weeks or more.
Wireless wherever possible. Minimal cable runs using CAT6 as needed. Your wireless router can be a Cisco 1800 series or equivalent.
Servers: Windows 2003 Server
Workstations: Windows XP Professional
For servers Windows 2003 is the operating system of choice for ease of support and compatibility with commercially available software.
For workstations Windows XP Professional provides maximum security and interoperability.
Useable Life of Equipment
3-5 years seems reasonable these days. This means, for example, that a $100,000 investment in technology breaks down to $20,000 per year for five years.
Remember: the above is a series of talking points. Your school's particular needs will vary. Listen to your consultant's recommendations. He has the experience and credentials to implement a network which will make your small staff more productive and keep your valuable data secure too.
Tip: Concerned about the high cost of office software? Use Open Office. It has all the features you need without the high cost and licensing issues.
Note: I am an MCP. My day job is IT Director for a call center where I am also a sales manager keeps me close to what's going on in the education technology market. I am privy to more 'horror' stories about school technology plans gone awry than you'd ever want to know. It always seems to boil down to the same thing: poor planning and implementation coupled with unwillingness to seek expert advice. ~ Rob Kennedy