Archive for Thursday, June 17, 2004

Data center on schedule

USD 232 Board OKs $1 million investment in central server for classroom technology

June 17, 2004

De Soto USD 232 schools took a million-dollar step last week toward its goal of making wireless computer technology available to all students.

At its regular meeting on June 8, the Board of Education voted 5-1 to use $1.07 million of the money allotted for technology from the $76 million bond issue, which passed in November 2002, to purchase hardware needed for the "thin client" remote computing system.

The hardware -- servers and storage -- will be installed in the district's new data center, scheduled for completion by July 1.

Thin client should be installed and ready at Prairie Ridge Elementary School when classes begin in August. If all goes smoothly, the device will be installed at other schools in several month increments through 2010.

Thin client is the generic name for "architecture" that enabled a district-wide wireless system, said technology director Ben Crosier. Citrix is the brand name of the thin client program the De Soto district chose.

The district's new data center in the former downtown De Soto elementary school will house the system's hardware, or brains, for the whole district. Servers, storage and programs will all be accessed from this centralized location.

Classroom computers ----which will eventually be mostly laptops -- would be "dumb terminals," Crosier said. Instead of needing, and paying for, storage and programs within every laptop, students log on to the system and access everything from the data center via the Internet.

Educational services director Doug Powers said one of the system's highlights would be remote access.

By simply downloading a log-in application, users will be able to use the district's classroom programs and retrieve their saved work from any home computer with Internet access, Powers said.

"That's great for kids, and it's great for teachers," he said.

Crosier said the approved funds would purchase enough servers and storage to have Citrix running at the first three schools on the schedule. Prairie Ridge, De Soto High School and Mill Valley High School are all scheduled to have the system by the end of 2004. The first wave of the system would cover about 2,000 students across the three schools, Crosier said.

There are fewer laptops than students, and not everyone would be using the system at the same time, so the district purchased enough Citrix licenses for 700 users to be on the system at once. The district could easily obtain more licenses as needed, Crosier said.

Board member Don Clark voted against the funding, citing the fact that Choice Solutions was the only bid to choose from.

Crosier said two other bids were submitted late and, by law, could not be considered. Re-bidding would put the project far behind schedule, as well as relinquish the district's chance to take advantage of a $32,000 mistake in their favor from something Choice Solutions mistakenly left out of their bid the first time around.

After referencing several other prices, all higher, Crosier said he thought Choice Solutions was the best bid.

"I feel confident this is a very, very attractive price," Crosier said.

Various staff and students have tested and reviewed the system and hardware for it.

Randy Doerksen, who is moving from principal of Clear Creek Elementary School to take the same position at Prairie Ridge, said the district began developing a plan to install thin client a decade ago.

Doerksen said thin client was the answer to teacher requests for remote access to grade books, district software applications and data, as well as mobile computing in the classroom.

Some of the staff at Prairie Ridge was involved in the project planning, he said.

Recent De Soto High School graduate Jason McAninch, who also works part-time for the technology department, said several other De Soto students tested the system out earlier in the year.

"It's actually something that all the students that we interviewed absolutely loved," he said. "I wish I was still going to school so I could use it."

McAninch said having remote access to the school's system would be especially helpful for high school students and teachers, who typically have lots of homework and grading to do after hours.

For more information about thin client or other technology updates, visit the technology department Web site at www.usd232.org.

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