K-12 Cloud Computing: The Private Cloud

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Cloud computing is getting a lot of play in the k-12 community and there’s no doubt that there are some wonderful benefits to this model for schools.

Web-based software can be the road to 24×7 access from any location with Internet access.

Software as a service off-loads the costs of servers and the ongoing cost of maintaining them by an already overburdened tech support staff.

Web-based software gets updated centrally and insures that all students and teachers are using the same version.

However, there are some limitations to the public cloud:

Not all applications run in the public cloud.

Storage of sensitive student data is not under the complete control of the school district.

Software becomes an annual subscription and not an outright, one-time purchase. Over time, software budgets will grow as we add more subscriptions.

We still need the local network for policies, printing, grouping students, web filtering, and local storage

We can address these issues by developing ‘private clouds’ within the district.

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We can virtualize desktops and applications and run them from servers in the ‘private cloud’ so that little or no software remains on the students’ or teachers’ computing device. Combining Public and Private clouds provides the best of all world’s:

All the benefits of the public cloud as stated above…

plus

The school can run applications that are unique to their environment.

Access these applications 24×7 from any device with Internet access.

Become device independent (apps are running on servers) thus allowing the purchase of thin clients, netbooks, and other low cost computing devices.

Install and manage applications centrally.

Slow the replacement cycle (software runs on servers so no need to buy new computers every few years.

There is no doubt that we are at a unique crossroads in educational technology. There are huge changes in the ed tech paradigm that are about to take place. The Public and Private clouds are a means to an end and not the end itself.

As we shift to this new paradigm we also make it possible for each student to have their own device and to access their learning resources and files from anywhere, at any time.

pete

Virtualization, Thin Clients, and Energy Consumption

In previous posts I documented a financial strategy that allows the average district to afford ubiquitous and/or one-to-one computing. This week I want to broaden the strategy to energy savings. It’s amazing what a significant savings replacing traditional ‘fat clients’ with ‘thin clients’ can be.

The University of Pennsylvania produced the energy graph below which shows the average PC drawing more than 100 watts during moderate use. This doesn’t include the monitor which on average can draw approximately 75 watts. So, for the sake of today’s post, let’s settle on 175 watts for the average energy use of a typical desktop used in our schools.

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Below is another chart, from the Mr. Electricity blog, showing ranges of PC energy use.

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The chart below, from Steve Greenburg, President of Thin Client Solutions, shows the average energy used by several models of WYSE Thin Clients. The 3630 model uses more energy because it has a built in monitor. The other energy readings are without monitors.

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From the same report, notice that the amount of energy consumed by Thin Clients is significantly less compared to the traditional PC.

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What kind of savings can we expect by implementing a Thin Client solution? Let’s look at a district with 1,000 computers.

Assumptions:

1. 175 watts used by each computer.

2. Each computer in moderate use 6 hours per day; 185 days per year.

3. Computers left on overnight and during the summer use approximately 35 watts.

4. The Thin Client solution uses 6 watts plus 75 watts for the monitor.

5. A utility rate of $.14 per kilowatt hour

Using these assumptions, the total amount spent on energy for our 1,000 computers is $64,680.

Now, let’s do the same calculation with the Thin Client solution

The approximate savings by implementing Thin Clients for our 1,000 computer network is $29,291 per year; a 45% savings in energy costs.

The 5 year savings = $146,455

$146,455 can be used to purchase quite a few new $450 devices.

BTW, it’s not only cost effective; but the right thing to do for our environment

pete

Note: Obviously, energy use can vary based on many equipment and usage factors. The savings shown here are illustrative only.

Top Tech Trends for 2009

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Most of you know that I don’t often spend time on the technology itself. I try to focus on how the technology can be used effectively to empower our students and transform teaching and learning.

I am taking a detour today. Why?

Because I am convinced that we are so busy with maintaining the technology status quo in our buildings and districts that we are missing some rather large paradigm shifts taking place in business networking. Shifts that can have major benefits to our students, as well as our financial bottom lines.

Let’s survey some of the trends..

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What does Gartner predict for 2009?

“Strategic technologies affect, run, grow and transform the business initiatives of an organization,” said David Cearley, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “Companies should look at these 10 opportunities and evaluate where these technologies can add value to their business services and solutions, as well as develop a process for detecting and evaluating the business value of new technologies as they enter the market.”

The top 10 strategic technologies for 2009 include:

Virtualization. Much of the current buzz is focused on server virtualization,…Hosted virtual images deliver a near-identical result to blade-based PCs. But, instead of the motherboard function being located in the data center as hardware, it is located there as a virtual machine bubble.

Cloud Computing. Cloud computing is a style of computing that characterizes a model in which providers deliver a variety of IT-enabled capabilities to consumers. Although cost is a potential benefit for small companies, the biggest benefits are the built-in elasticity and scalability, which not only reduce barriers to entry, but also enable these companies to grow quickly.

How about CNN’s predictions for 2009?

Spiraling netbooks

The computer industry now ships more portable computers such as laptops than desktops, and an increasingly important part of the mix will be mini-notebook computers, known as netbooks. Industry sources say computer makers will sell more than 11 million netbooks worldwide in 2008, up from just around a million in 2007, and netbook sales could easily double in the new year

Hey, you, get onto my cloud

Evangelists such as Salesforce.com (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff have been predicting for years a revolution in so-called cloud services and computing, in which software and other applications are delivered to end-users over networks, or “the cloud.” This may be the year Benioff and the cloud crowd are proven right.

Corporate cloud computing is getting a big boost from consumers who already get a fair number of services via the Net. Photo-sharing sites are great examples of cloud services, as is just about any service that lets consumers store data or information anywhere but their computer or mobile phone. “In the consumer space it isn’t hype,” said HP’s Robison. “It’s actually quite far along.

Virtualization becomes reality

Like cloud computing, “virtualization” helps companies reduce the cost of operating machines such as servers. The technology basically allows a single piece of hardware to run systems or applications that previously had run on multiple machines – essentially allowing companies to squeeze more out of existing hardware and even defer new purchases.

Virtualization has only been around in earnest for about three years, says Dell senior vice president Paul Bell, but he thinks corporate customers are starting to embrace it.

Obviously, I had to abridge the predictions; but over and over Cloud Computing, Virtualization, and Netbooks were in the tech trends lists I researched. I also found a move to Open Source software, and continued adoption of Web 2.0 in most of the lists.

The benefits of these three technology trends to businesses are clear and there are even greater benefits for education. Both Cloud Computing and Virtualization involve moving the applications away from the PC itself.

“There’s a clear direction … away from people thinking, ‘This is my PC, this is my hard drive,’ to ‘This is how I interact with information, this is how I interact with the web,'” – Dave Armstrong, Google Enterprise

Putting applications on servers that deliver them when needed allows a consistent and ubiquitous experience. I don’t have to be sitting at a specific machine that has the application I want on it. I can be at any machine and my applications are delivered to me.

BTW it doesn’t need to be a computer in my school. I can access my applications at home. Want to finish a Photoshop project but don’t have it on your home computer? Access the Cloud or the Virtualized application servers and you’ve got it. The school network just got extended into the home, or the library.

Want another reason to take these trends seriously for k-12?

Make your network “device independent!”

Buy netbooks, thin clients, or PDA’s and virtualize them.

Take a $300 thin client or a $450 netbook and instead of loading its hard rive with tons of application software, put that software in the Cloud or on VIrtualized application servers and they no longer are ‘toys’. They run every application that a big $900 computer can run.

Does purchasing two netbooks for every one desktop sound like a good idea in these tough fiscal times?

More computers, more access, from more places…

Maybe, someday we’ll allow kids to bring their laptops or mobile devices from home. They’ll be able to log into the app servers or Cloud and get their school software. Maybe instead of having to buy every kid in our school a device for our ‘one to one’ initiatives, we’ll just have to fill in the gaps for those who don’t have computers.

One more area that may appeal to cash strapped ed tech budgets is a longer replacement cycle. We’ve been on the replacement merry-go -ound for a years. No doubt, computers get old and have to be replaced; but what if we could double their useful life? Wouldn’t that help the bottom line? Wouldn’t that allow us to spend a little more on increasing the number of computers available to kids?

We need to pay attention to these trends that are being widely endorsed and implemented throughout the business community. We’ve been pretty quick to point out educators and administrators who are slow to change the way they teach and lead. We’ve complained about their unwillingness to adopt technology and new ways of doing things.

Now, here we are confronted with some emerging technology trends that require us to shift our own paradigms. Just like educators who resist the potential that technology can bring to their classrooms, it’s easy for us to throw up arguments and pick apart a thing or two with each of these technologies… and miss the big picture.

Maybe the paradigm shift seems too big for us to absorb at one time. Then perhaps a small pilot will suffice. It gets us started down the road of learning without the fear of upsetting the entire applecart.

It’s time to begin implementing new ways of delivering educational content. It will take these new approaches, a clear vision, and as always, courageous leadership, to break the stranglehold of past practice.

We can’t afford to ignore technology trends that can greatly improve teaching and learning. Our kids are too important.

pete

Frank White

Sadness. Frank White passed away yesterday. I feel the loss personally and I know it will be a great professional loss for educators.

Frank has been around since the beginning of ed tech. He’s worked for a number of educational software companies. He had a penchant for finding really good startups, and he was always looking to help them find a way into the very complicated educational marketplace.

I think what defined Frank for me was his personal style. When you were with him you were with a human being not an ed tech “automotron”… dead sure that they have the ‘silver bullet’ in their hands. No, he wasn’t a know it all; but he knew everybody and was a welcome warm and friendly voice on the phone or in person.

Frank was always looking for ways to help kids. He was selling…but it was a warm sell, not a hard sell.

For years I took Frank for granted. I thought he would always be there. When he’d invite me out to lunch I’d be too busy. In my mind I thought there would always be time to reschedule. There would be other chances to get together. It’s so easy for us to take each other for granted.

I know I tend to deal with colleagues via the roles they play and not see the person for who they really are.

“This woman is a vendor, I don’t need to call her back.”

I’m not saying we need to spend time with everyone who calls on us; but how many Frank White’s do we miss when we do? Sad for us. We’re the one’s poorer for it.

I really got to know Frank better over the past year. I made time to get together. We began meeting at a local diner to have breakfast or lunch together. I wish I had begun doing this much sooner. I didn’t realize how much Frank had to offer until I got to know him this way.

We’ve lost a good one.

I’ll miss Frank White.

pete

Times Are Changing

A mythical Ed Tech Leader reflects on his mythical network.

I’ve got a network and it works fairly well. I’ve got just enough technical staff to keep things running and our heads above water. We’re doing our best to replace the older and more obsolete computers; but the budget is shrinking and it’s getting harder to keep up.

Question to Self: Self, is this the best way to do business?
Answer: I think so. It’s the way most people handle their school infrastructure and access.

Question to Self: So basically, unless the school district wins the lottery, the number of computers we have available for students and teachers is going to remain pretty near what it is today?
Answer: I guess so. I’m not hearing too many complaints about access, and even if I had the money to add computers, I wouldn’t have the staff to properly support them.

Question to Self: What if I didn’t have to replace the older computers?
Answer: That would free up a good chunk of money that I could spend on expanding access for students and staff. The problem is no old computer is going to run forever. Eventually it’s got to be replaced.

Question to Self: Would it help if you could keep it running the latest and greatest software for the next 10 years?
Answer: Well, yes it would. I could put off replacing them every 5-6 years because they can’t run the latest operating system or whatever.

Question to Self: What if when you take this freed up money you have from not buying replacement computers and you bought 2 devices for every one that you used to buy and added that to your existing inventory of computers?
Answer: Well, I’d be expanding at twice the rate. Instead of buying 50 full blown computers, I could buy 100 thin or slimmed down computers.

Question to Self: What if when you increased the number of computers you didn’t have to add more staff to support them?
Answer: That can’t be possible. I can barely handle what I have today.

Question to Self: But what if?
Answer: It would be great. But how can I keep old computers in place? How can I buy new devices at half the cost of what I used to buy? How can I do all this adding of equipment and not add support staff?

Question to Self: Hey, I’m asking the questions here!
Answer: Anything that sounds to good to be true usually is!

Question: Have you heard of virtualization?
Answer: Yes, of course. It’s been around for quite a few years; but it’s not for me.

Question to Self: Why not?
Answer: Well, you need to buy Citrix licenses which aren’t cheap. I heard that it can’t run video and multimedia very well, and I also think there are applications that are so processor intense, like Video Editing and AutoCad, that they don’t run well either.

Question to Self: When was the last time you took a really close look at ‘vitualization’?
Answer: Like I said, a few years ago.

Question to Self: What are a few of the things that you’ve seen change in the last few years?
Answer: Well servers are more powerful and can probably handle more ‘virtual user sessions than in past years. That would probably make things a bit less expensive. I wouldn’t need to buy as many servers. Oh!, and then there’s the sub-$500 dollar mini-notebook and thin client market that has exploded. I see that’s where I’d get the 2 for 1 purchasing power.

Question to Self: Did you know that new Microsoft Server OS developments can remove the need to buy Citrix for every device?
Answer: No, I didn’t. If that’s true it would greatly reduce the cost of ‘virtualizing’.

Question to Self: So what’s the big deal breaker that’s holding you back?
Answer: Like I said earlier, it can’t run every application.

Question to Self: Could you run 80%-90% of you applications from an application server and run the few applications that don’t run best in this environment on the local hard drives the way you do today? Any harm in a hybrid environment?
Answer: No. I don’t think so.

Question to Self: When you put 80%-90% of the software on servers that you manage centrally and the devices that attach to the servers are thin clients, fat clients, mini-notebooks, or obsolete computers that have nothing but the ‘virtualization” client on them, do you think it will be easier to support the network?
Answer: Absolutely. No more Ghosting and re-Ghosting the local workstation image. I’ll still have to have technicians but they won’t be spending nearly the time they spend today working on the end-user devices. They’ll probably be spending more time working on the switches and the servers.

Question to Self: So you can expand the number of end-user devices and not have to increase the number of support techs?
Answer: I think each tech in this new environment could handle many more devices because he’s not really working with the devices. He’s more focused on what’s going on with the application servers.

Question to Self: So, I’ll ask again. What’s the big hang up?
Answer: I feel like I don’t know enough about ‘virtualization’ to commit to it. It’s a big change.

Question to Self: Do you agree that it can deliver major benefits?
Answer: Yes. I can see that.

Question to Self: So what is a good first step?
Answer: I think I need to visit some successful sites. I could probably put together a pilot. I’d learn a lot from getting my hands dirty.

Question to Self: Why not get going?
Answer: Okay! Okay! Leave me alone. I’ll start working on it tomorrow.

Question to Self: Tomorrow?
Answer: You know me too well. I’ll start on it right away.

Cloud Computing, Virtualization, and K-12 Education

Thomas Bittman of the Gartner Group has written a thought provoking blog post on Cloud Computing and K-12 education. Bittman begins his piece by letting us know that he is serving as a volunteer on the technology planning committee of his home school district. His first impression?

The web, social software and cloud computing will definitely have an impact on enterprise IT – but the impact on our educational system will be astounding, and many in our educational system don’t see it coming.

His observations about our K-12 technology planning processes are astute and ring true.

Technology plans are usually three year plans, including a vision and strategic action items. The reason these were important in the past was to feed into the capital investment plan for a district – because technology usually meant buying a lot of hardware and software. It was usually sufficient to use the vision and perhaps incrementally change the action plans from three years ago. In fact, I’ve read a number of “current” technology plans (including the one for my state) that could have been written in 1990. They simply don’t get the significance of the web and cloud computing on technology purchases, technology use, and how and what we teach.

He clearly sees that Cloud Computing and Virtualization have real benefits that need to be accounted for in our technology plans.

Rather than spend a major portion of our scarce technology dollars for the replacement of obsolete computers, so that we can run the latest software; why not run software from “the cloud” or from “virtualized servers”, and in the process become “device independent? Device independence allows us to choose the right device for the job whether it be a full desktop client, a thin client, a mini-notebook, laptop or iPod.

Rather than spend large percentages of our technology budgets on the technical support staff needed to maintain our traditional ‘distributed’, on-site, individual hard drive oriented networks, why not simplify our networks by “farming out” as many of our onsite resources as possible to “the cloud” or to “application servers”?

Do all applications have to run on individual hard drives? Do all applications have to be hosted on site?

Yes, there are some applications (ie. high-end video editing) that make sense to run locally; but the vast majority of educational and productivity software can be run from “the cloud” or via “application servers”.

Bittman says,

The need for hardware and software isn’t being eliminated, but it is shifting from being on-premises to being in the cloud. All that is needed is a cheap access device and a web browser, broadband in the schools, perhaps wireless hotspots. While equitable access to technology is clearly important, more and more students already have some kind of access device – a laptop, an Ipod. The district needs to fill the gaps, not replace existing access devices.

Bittman goes on to look at the social web and collaboration in K-12 education and provides some thought provoking vision statements in those areas.

Take a look at your existing technology plan. Could it have been written in the ‘90’s? If so, step back and consider a brand new, fresh start, blank sheet, big vision, technology plan.

pete

Network Paradigm Shifts Can Create Ubiquitous Computing Environments Without Increasing the Tech Budget

Recommendation:

Shift the current ‘Distributed Network’ paradigm to the emerging practice of ‘Virtualization’.

There are several technical approaches to virtualizing networks but, in general, most involve running software on centralized servers rather than on the hard drives of thousands of computers distributed throughout the school district network. In a virtualized environment the local computer is used only as a device to access the applications that run on the server. Technical advances in the last 18 months have increased the capacity of virtualized desktops to run demanding applications (audio and video), and have greatly reduced the overall cost.

Virtualizing the environment provides the following benefits:

1. Replacement Cycles are Decreased and/or Eliminated.
Since the end-user device is only utilized to connect to the server, it barely uses the local processor or hard drive; thus it allows educators to keep old and outdated equipment in use for much longer replacement cycles. Instead of buying new machines to run the latest software, the latest software, running on servers, is accessed via the old machines on a virtualized network. This allows districts to re-allocate precious dollars from endless replacement plans to adding new machines and increasing access to technology resources and educational opportunities.

2. Hardware Purchase Costs Are Greatly Reduced.
Virtualization also allows districts to choose from a wide variety of devices ranging from inexpensive Thin Clients, Mini-Netbooks, and other low-cost devices; to more traditional desktops and laptops where appropriate.

In a virtualized environment it may be possible to purchase (2) devices for the cost of (1) fully configured desktop. The ability for school districts to increase access to computer devices while not increasing the budget is a huge step forward.

3. Students and Teachers Have 24×7 Access From Home.
Because software runs centrally it can be accessed from anywhere at anytime, especially the home. Students and teachers are able to access all their school applications, their files, and their storage from any device with Internet connectivity. Extending school resources this way increases access to learning resources beyond the school day.

4. Network Support Costs Are Reduced.
One of the largest recurring expenses in a district’s technology budget is the cost of network engineers/technicians that are needed to maintain and support it. Supporting the current distributed network is very labor intensive and schools generally have to hire a full time network engineer for every 500-750 computers. In a virtualized environment most of the effort of supporting the infrastructure is focused on the servers where the applications are running. Because network engineers don’t have to resolve problems on the local computers distributed throughout the buildings, one technician can easily support 1,000-1,500 computers. This produces two areas of possible savings: 1) it is possible to reduce staff already in place; or 2) It is possible to keep the current staff in place and not have to add staff as the number of digital devices on the network grows.

5. Software and Textbook Costs are Reduced.
Many districts purchase one software license for every machine. Centralizing the software allows for metering tools to manage software usage, which in turn, permits the district to purchase just the number of concurrent licenses that they need. Instead of paying for 1,000 licenses for a piece of software to be loaded on 1,000 machines, a district can purchase 500 concurrent licenses which can be accessed from any computer, including those at home. This can be an important source of savings.

Some districts purchase (2) sets of textbooks, one for classroom use and one for home use. Virtualization allows districts to buy (1) electronic version of a textbook which is available from any device at any location. Once again, this frees up precious resources to continue to expand access to digital devices for students.

Summary:
Virtualization opens the door to realistically creating technology rich and device rich, environments without significantly increasing district technology budgets. While virtualizing the environment requires some ‘up-front’ investment, most of these costs are almost entirely one-time outlays. Similar to the concept of investing in solar panels that reduce our electric bills, the payback period for virtualization is almost immediate.

Given the extensive research into “high volume computer access’ classrooms and their correlation to student engagement, project-based learning, independent learning, and increased achievement, I would recommend that virtualization take priority over the costly and largely un-researched impact of equipping classrooms with “Digital Whiteboards” and document cameras. These technologies tend to keep the focus of class activities on the front of the room, maintaining the traditional classroom orientation, and can only be used by one person at a time. Providing students with devices that connect them to high quality instructional resources and learning experiences will be more likely to stimulate student centered pedagogy and have a greater impact on delivering teaching and learning that is consistent with 21st Century Skills.

Some Additional Thoughts:
I believe that by committing to ‘virtualizing’ school networks we can make immediate and dramatic strides toward creating ubiquitous technology learning environments.

How?
1. The technology budget lines presently targeted for replacing obsolete computers can be allocated for adding new devices instead.
2. The technology budget lines presently targeted for new purchases can be used to purchase 2x as many devices by utilizing Thin Clients and Sub-$500 Mini-Notebooks.
3. The technology budget lines presently targeted for Network Maintenance and Support salaries can be reduced and the savings re-allocated to the purchase of more devices.

Just these (3) items alone bring us, almost immediately, to a much higher student to computer ratio, without a permanent increase in the technology budget. It fundamentally changes our thinking about whether ubiquitous computing is a realistic goal, and the greatly reduces the timeframe it might take to achieve it.

pete

Thanks To Stager, Martinez, and Smith

I’m just back from this year’s NYSCATE Conference in Rochester, NY. Now I may be biased, because I am the current President of the organization; but this had to be one of the best conferences I have ever attended. There were plenty of educators providing high quality presentations, David Jakes and Gary Stager were excellent keynote bookends with additional talks by Marc Prensky and Don Knezek. Peter Reynolds of Fablevision was a constant presence and his art was everywhere. It was magnificent.

I am going to forego the ‘blow by blow’ and skip to one of the items that finally became real for me at this conference. Gary Stager, Sylvia Martinez, and Brian Smith did a wonderful presentation on the XO. For some reason, I was ready to feel the message in a different way…more in my heart I guess and less in my head. They offered these videos to help me understand on a deep level what is at stake. Thank you guys!

Please consider the “Buy 1 – Get 1” program this Holiday season. It is a very concrete way to make a difference in the world. Click here to get to participate.

On another note, here is a poem for the Thanksgiving Holidays:

Thanks
by W.S. Merwin

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals
back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a country up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

pete