Monthly IT Update – February, 2012

Over the past few months, the district’s IT Department has focused the bulk of its work on rebuilding our network infrastructure to provide more efficient and reliable service to the students, teachers, and administrative users of our information systems.

The core of our business is supporting what happens in the classroom. When thinking about modern classrooms and learners, we try to picture what the learning environment is like. That informs us as to the type of technologies in which we need to invest.

Our department is aiming its support towards providing classrooms that are:

  • Flexible
  • Where students have more control and responsibility for their learning
  • Collaborative
  • Embraces the teaching of new literacies
  • Responsive to the need to teach digital ethics and responsibility

As such, we need technologies that:

  • ​Are responsive
  • Provide a consistent user experience
  • Meet the expectations of students and teachers in a digital age
  • Support innovation
  • Are central to the learning and business needs of the educational system

To that end, we have some ambitious goals to meet by years end. Some of the highlights include:

  • ​District-funded installation of wireless networks
  • The implementation of a centrally-funded model for the refresh of ageing workstations
  • The redesign and rebuild of our Active Directory
  • Modernizing our district’s central data center and school-based servers
  • Revising our district’s software licensing plans to maximize what we can offer to our users
  • A graduated deployment of SharePoint
  • Advocating for increased Internet connection speeds for our schools (these connections are provided to us by the Provincial Learning Network or PLN)
  • Upgrading our internal communications server to Exchange 2010 Lync

In keeping with these goals, we have the current program updates to share with the school community.

Network Connection Speeds

Our department is in regular communication with representatives of the Provincial Learning Network (PLN) to ensure that school Internet connection speeds maintain pace with the demands placed up on them. To that end, I am happy to announce the following speed upgrades. All of these changes are being funded by the PLN, and do not impact on the district’s budgets. The schools receiving upgrades are:

  • ​Happy Valley from 1.5 Mbps to 10 Mbps
  • Belmont from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps
  • Board Office from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps
  • Lakewood from 1.5 Mbps to 10 Mbps

These connections will result in vastly improved Internet speeds for these sites. The connection to the Board Office is particularly important, as it will serve as the foundation for a number of service improvements we plan on rolling out to the district over the next 12 to 18 months.

District-Funded Wireless Installations

Starting in January, 2012, the IT department has assumed funding for the installation of wireless networks in schools. As a first stage, schools that had requested installation (but for whom work had not yet started) will be the first to receive a wireless network under the program. The schools (and current statuses of the individual installations are:

  • EMCS (Complete)
  • Journey (In Progress)
  • Colwood (Equipment Ordered – Due to start soon)
  • Sangster(Equipment Ordered – Due to start soon)

Stage 2 of the program will be to develop a fair, equitable process to determine how schools will be able to request, and subsequently receive, district-funded wireless installations. Details to follow soon.

When a school receives a wireless installation, two wireless networks actually become available. The first network is called SD62 Wireless. This is a secured network, and is intended for district-owned and managed devices. When connected to SD62 Wireless, a device has access to printing, file shares, email, and Internet. Basically, any function that could be accomplished on a wired connection can be accomplished on the SD62 Wireless network, but those functions can be undertaken anywhere the device can pick up a signal.

The second network that becomes available is SD62 Login. This network is intended for guest devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones), regardless of the device’s operating system (Windows, Mac, Android, Blackberry). Users login with the same username/password combination that they use to access a wired workstation within the school. By logging in, users agree to use the network responsibly and ethically. Techs regularly monitor the network connections to ensure appropriate use of the guest network. If irregularities come to the attention of the techs, we usually (temporarily) disable the account in question, and then send the user’s name to the local school administration for further investigation. The account in question will only be reinstated on the instruction of the school’s principal or vice-principal.

Data Centre Refresh

We are at the first stages of installing new server systems in our district’s data centre. This will allow us to consolidate a number of servers, meaning that some existing machines will no longer be needed in the Board Office. The new server systems will also form the foundation for improved file access, and communications throughout the district. Any existing servers that have a use elsewhere in the district will be reallocated. We aren’t yet sure which machines will become available, but our department will examine the capabilities of the surplus hardware with an eye to redeploying it to sites that will receive maximum benefit from these machines. Again, more details to follow in future monthly updates.

Sharepoint

The new Sharepoint platform is in its early stages. This information site is being maintained on the new platform, and we’re trying to identify high-impact areas where the initial deployment of Sharepoint will have the maximum benefit. As more features become available, we will provide additional information from here. For the moment, the most prominent use of Sharepoint is by the district’s Staffing Committee to facilitate the collection and sharing of information in a more efficient and timely way.

Workstation Refresh

Much of the work we’re doing this year focuses on rebuilding infrastructure. This is equivalent to building new roadways, or replacing road surface that has worn out. At the same time, many of our workstations are well-past the end of their acceptable service life. The number of workstations that falls into this category far exceeds the financial and labour capacity to replace as quickly as we would all like to happen. Therefore, the department has recently surveyed the district’s workstations, and has applied a formula to determine which computers are the best candidates for replacement this year. More details about the formula and the replacement schedule are coming, but it’s important to keep in mind that the formula basically identifies the oldest, least-functional equipment, and assigns it as a priority for replacement.

We are currently working with a number of vendors to determine the best way to purchase equipment that meets the needs and expectations of our users. The expected lifecycle for this equipment is three to four years, after which, it will be refreshed on a predictable basis. Depending on available budget, we aim to refresh each workstation over a course of three years, and implement this as a recurring program for our district. This allows us to move away from a model of ‘replacing when there is money’ to ‘replacing when the equipment is due’.

As stated earlier, we cannot manage a program that refreshes at the rate that users would like to see. Our hope is that communicating the program and its principles will help students, staff and administrative users understand when their equipment will be refreshed. We ask for your patience and understanding as we try to update workstations as quickly as we can manage it.

District Licensing for Microsoft Products

We are eagerly anticipating our district’s entry into a province-wide licensing program for Microsoft products. This will allow us to provide a predictable, consistent user experience. Basically, everyone can have the same version of Microsoft software (such as Word or Excel) without any additional costs being borne by schools. This will be extremely helpful in facilitating the exchange of information and documents throughout the district. Further, this program will also allow for a planned migration to Windows 7, and Windows 8 (when it becomes available).

Thanks very much for taking the time to become more familiar with our ongoing initiatives. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to email me​.

About Graham Arts

District Principal of IT
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