Thursday, March 6, 2008

The EeePC and Schools

Having recently read a post on Hardman's Blogtastic Blog (don't you just love that name? :) ) I've been thinking...

The school I'm involved with has only recently bought aroud 12 brand spanking new Dell laptops. They're the kind of machines that I would be happy to use on a daily basis, let alone an entire gaggle (see what I did there?) of secondary school students, plus the teachers.

Imagine the savings that could be made by using technology such as the Eee PC! Having heard so many good first-hand reports about the new machines from friends of mine, it would be silly of me not to investigate it further... Now all I have to do is get my hands on one!

And one final thought - A whole host of these cheap and cheerful machines could also end up in a "one laptop per child" situation. hmmm...


Mo Money Mo Problems

Every now and again the Irish goverment declares that a certain amount of money will be made available to schools to be used for, for example, library technology, computer network infrastructure, computers in general, science labs and so on. The money that they then provide must only be spent on equipment that either directly or indirectly aids the money's purpose.

One of the major problems with this setup is that if the money is not spent, or if there is a small amount left over after the purchases, it disappears. It cannot be hoarded in order to save up for some particularly expensive piece of hardware - its essentially a "Use it or Lose it" scenario.

As a result of this, its easy to see how there could be wastage of public funding, depending on when the money appears. Often, however, its not a big problem - everyone can find something to spend the money on :)
The only problem is making sure that you're working towards some goal, or end point.

And that's where I'm hoping to steer one particular school in North Dublin - LTSP. Having recently contacted Dell Ireland, I've been sent a quote for the following machine:

  • Quad Core Xeon 5450 5.0Ghz/2x6MB 1333 FSB
  • 2nd Quad Core as above (yes, thats 8 cores!)
  • 16GB 667Mhz FBD (8 x 2GB dual rank DIMMs)
  • 2 x 146GB SAS (15,000rpm) 3.5 inch Hard Drive

And this entire setup (along with a copy of Windows Server 2003 - they just don't seem to listen when I say Windows is not required. The previous invoice also included 60 terminal server licences!) comes in at a reasonable price, give or take some optional extras. One thing I'd like to add is a separate, smaller, 15k disk for the OS to run from.

Now I have to go research just how many clients a server like this can support (I'm guessing alot) as well as trying to find out as much as possible about running clients from this sort of architecture.

Of course, the server is only part of the solution! I've also contacted NorhTec with the view to aquiring a MicroClient Jr and a MicroClient Sr in order to check them out and ensure that they would be suitable for a school environment.

And then (unfortunately) theres the question of securing the machines within the school - roaming hands would just love to walk out with a few of these tiny computers stuffed into their schoolbags!

Using TFT screens and mounting the machines physically onto the back of them is always an option, and would mean securing the monitors instead of each individual machine, but flatscreen monitors on every desk may just push the budget beyond the capabilities of the school.

You can't say it won't look fantastic though :)


Thursday, February 7, 2008

LTSP Information?

Following on from my first post, I just wanted to add something that has been bothering me for a while now.
It's incredibly difficult to find any solid information about the hardware requirements for an actual LTSP network.
Through my searches, I've located Joe Hartman's, and Stephen Walder's Blog. Add to those the Edubuntu Handbook (or more specifically, the Hardware Requirements page), and you'd think I should be satisfied.

Far from it.

I like to see figures, hard data, and actual working examples of how a particular setup works for someone. Its all very well and good being told that a server requires 256 Mb of RAM, plus an additional 128 Mb per thin client (256 + (128 * users) MB) - but what about those case studies, or user-feedback, or any form of information regarding what applications a server like this would support?
For example, will an Edubuntu server with 512 Mb of RAM support 2 thin clients (as the formula above says it should) if they're both playing a flash game? Or how about if they're both running Firefox (with multiple tabs open), using Open Office for word processing while simultaneously updating a spreadsheet with new figures?

Now, that's not to say that the figures provided are entirely useless. It really is helpful to even have this slight guideline - but my issue is that it provides no insight into normal day-to-day usage!

If anyone is or has been willing enough to take the time to document their network infrastructure, please, make it publically available. You can be sure that I'm not the first, and won't be the last to be looking for it!


And so, it begins

I've never been one for blogging, and I'm unsure as to how long I'll keep this up, but for now, I may as well just chronicle the work I'm doing and things I'm thinking!

My aim for this blog, is to create (yet another) insight into the world of LTSP computing, specifically when using Edubuntu.
Before I get into the chunky information, some background:
My name, is Daniel Hunt.
I'm 24 years old at the time of writing, and I'm also the technical contact for my old secondary school. As a result of the relationship I've built up with the computers teacher there, I installed (and currently maintain) their Windows network.

Now, here's some information on the current setup in the school (which will remain unnamed for the time being) that may or may not end up running an Edubuntu LTSP network:

Server 1:
Windows 2003 Server (DHCP, Domain Controller, Login Server ... basically, everything)
Specs to follow.

Client 1:
30 machines
Windows 2000
P4 2Ghz CPU
1 Gig RAM

Client 2:
15-20 machines
Windows 98 / Windows 2000
P3 1Ghz CPU
512 Mb RAM

Client 3:
5-10 machines
Windows 98 / Windows 2000
P2/3 700Mhz CPU
256-512 Mb RAM

So, as you can see, there are 60-70 machines (give or take a few that work whenever they feel like it), and every one of them are running some form of the Windows OS.
Given that over half of the machines would be considered "low-spec", and that the cost of upgrading or replacing these machines (and the monitors that they're using) would be far too high for any normal public secondary school, I've been considering the move over to Linux.

LTSP is an absolutely fantastic technology, in theory. And I'm very interested in finding out how well it works in practice.

I've just managed to get my hands on Server 2, which outranks the Server 1 on the specifications level (but not by a whole lot) - I'll post them in an update in the coming week or so, and I'm hoping to install Edubuntu on it, and then (and here's the hard part) convince the computers teacher in the school I help out that its the right thing for them.

Server 2:
No operating system installed
Dual Processor - 933Mhz
1 Gig RAM
4 x 9 Gig SCSI Disks