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Server Software

Capturing information from the April 2009 WELSTech listserve discussion:

Ken B., Star of Bethlehem

Is anyone out there using purely some version of Linux to run their school / church networks? Is it a pain to administer for a purely volunteer staff?

Is it really worth the savings?

We have a few volunteers who can help out with Windows-based technology issues. We are afraid that if we move off of Windows, the one Linux geek will never be allowed to retire.

Jeremy J.

We have not started using Linux yet at Risen Savior in Milwaukee, but I would like to see us slowly tend toward that direction in the future. I've done some testing with Edubuntu, and one of our teachers gave positive feedback after using it for a brief period with her students.

If you only have one Linux geek, I'd recommend moving to Linux only in small incrememts if at all. Let a few people gradually become more familiar with it. See if any of the Windows techies or adventurous staff are willing to play with it at home. Also, you can purchase support for Linux. For example, Canonical offers paid support for Ubuntu. I'm not sure what the price is, but it might be more cost effective than paying for Windows.

I recommend Ubuntu for office staff and servers, Ubuntu Education Edition (formerly Edubuntu) for students and possibly teachers, and Linux Mint (based on Ubuntu) for home use. I've spent considerable time using all three.

Using Linux only in the computer lab might be safer than using it on all computers in the facility. If your staff sticks with the familiarity of Windows so they can get their work done, you will limit the number of critical problems that can occur. A problem in the lab isn't as crippling to your operations as a problem with the administrative staff. Ubuntu Education Edition is great for computer labs.

Eric P., St. Matthew's Lutheran School

Let me chime in here with another alternative that always seems to be left out of the discussion - OS X, a unix OS with the leading innovator <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_16/b4127046256572.htm> providing support, most of it free to schools. Interestingly, Cisco has begun allowing employees to pick their own work computers, and roughly a quarter of them have already opted for Macs <http://money.cnn.com/2009/04/13/technology/fortt_choice.fortune/index.htm> because they just work.

I'm as lazy as the next guy, and if I could find a way to further reduce my technology support time, I'd do it. But when it already is approaching zero for our school, I'll admit I'm not looking that hard.

I have a mixed environment that I'm responsible for. Our church uses Automated Church Systems (ACS) for its church management software, which, if you host your own data, has to be on Windows. For that reason, we have a Windows server with 10 clients. What a pain.

I run all my network diagnostics, monitoring, mail, filtering, and DNS on Red Hat or FreeBSD.

I run the school on a Mac server and 40 clients. Guess where my support time goes? Windows.

I'm not claiming that the Mac is a panacea for all your tech woes, but what I can say unequivocally is that the Mac platform makes support a nonissue for us in school.

So why don't more people get it? I think it is because they are not very good (O.K. honest) with figuring out what their time is worth. If I just price the cheapest piece of crap Windoze box to a Mac, the Mac costs more. If I actually build a Windoze box with comparable hardware, the price is about even (try it, you can build your own on Apple's site and on HP or Dell). If I factor in the software I get with the Mac purchase, the Mac comes out ahead. If I add to that the time to support, the Mac comes out way ahead. For me, it is definitely one of those "you get what you pay for" deals. It may cost a little more up front, but I'm still using Macs purchased almost 10 years ago for certain things (one is running our church's carillon).

When it comes right down to it, relying on volunteer support means downtime. That isn't a dig on any volunteer. In fact, I laud their efforts. However, they have real jobs and real families that have already placed demands on their time. The second grade computer is just going to be further down the list. What schools should really be focussing on is purchasing technology that just works, not technology that you constantly have to babysit.

If you are interested, here are a few other articles on other peoples experiences with this:

http://www.financialpost.com/small-business/story.html?id=1369454
http://mcphersonz.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/finally-made-the-switch-to-the-other-side-aka-a-former-windows-user-that-moved-to-mac-os-x/
http://www.utilware.com/switching.html

If you've made it this far, thanks for taking the time, and let me close by saying that I really try not to get on any bandwagons, but in this case, this is one that I think deserves a look, as it allows me to put more energy into the other aspects of my call, coaching and teaching, instead of monkeying around trying to get this or that piece of budget hardware to work.

Sallie D., St. John's, Sleepy Eye, MN

At St. John's LES in Sleepy Eye we run Ubuntu (Linux) on our server. We also use Samba on the server for Windows networking. For us the financial savings of open source outweighed the software perks of fee-based options.

John H.

Many companies are using Linux platforms for applications. GE Healthcare uses Linux for the OS for their MRI machines. I know also that avionics is using Linux more and more. An insight one gets writing the manuals and documentation for such.

Jeff C., Resurrection, Aurora, IL

At Resurrection in Aurora, IL we currently use an Ubuntu server and several Windows XP laptops in a Samba domain. It took me about a week's worth of nights to setup the server, add the student and staff users to the server and make sure they all worked correctly with the proper permissions, get a stable Windows image with all the software + settings we needed for the laptops, then to image the laptops. Since that time, I've had very little maintenance to perform, and now most of the work on the server I do is applying the occasional update that I decide needs to be pushed to the server. I do all of this remotely from MLC and I spend less than an hour a month on the server side. This coming summer, I will be doing a new laptop image, since the old one has lasted for roughly 2 years now, and there are some updates that I want to do. As far as adding new students, I made a simple web page that the school's secretary can use, and it automatically creates the user account's home directory (used for Windows roaming profiles) and the domain login. 

As for running Linux on client machines, I tend to stay away from that unless you are adding it as a dual-boot as part of your computer/technology curriculum. Windows is and will continue to be the accepted standard for user machines for the foreseeable future, as much as the Linux fanatics like to think otherwise. Linux is just too different from what people are used to dealing with in their home computers. 

John H.

Jeff, do you do a core build that is then applied to all laptops? Can any updates be pushed from the server onto laptops as users log in to the system and there are updates? I realize this is getting beyond the scope of the simple maintenance most congregations can handle.

Jeff C., Resurrection, Aurora, IL

Yes, it is 1 image that is applied to all laptops (they are identical). I currently don't do any other management as far as updates, since there are only a handful of machines. However, when our new school building is finished and I have a lab full of computers, I will probably put in some distribution system.

Perry Lund

Since Mac OS X Server uses Samba and I work with heterogeneous platform environments, there are some issues cropping up with Vista and Windows 7 testing I conduct. Vista and Windows 7 uses a newer version of client to server authentication that uses 128-bit encryption that most current builds of Samba does not support. This includes our OS X and CentOS and Ubuntu servers. There is a method to tweak the Vista and Windows 7 clients using Local Policy Editor to allow logins to these servers. 
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