An Interview with Berj Akian – CEO ClassLink Inc.

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Join me for an interview with Berj Akian, CEO and founder of ClassLink Inc.. Berj set out to improve education by creating world class technology tools for students and teachers. What started out as an effort to help one local school integrate a cutting edge technology environment became a stepping stone that led to the establishment of ClassLink, Inc. Prior to paving a new foundation for technology in the educational realm, Berj was with Technology Crossover Ventures, a leading venture capital firm. Previous to TCV he specialized in restructuring and attest services for large technology and educational publishing clients with Arthur Andersen. Berj graduated cum laude from Baruch College in New York

See The Entire Interview at A Path With Heart

Berj discusses a wide range of topics including:

The Key Elements of Effective Leaders

 

The Teacher’s Burden

 

Standards

 

See The Entire Interview at A Path With Heart

 

What is ClassLink?  ClassLink solves the problem of too many passwords, and too many files scScreen Shot 2016-03-04 at 1.16.40 PMattered about. It’s a one click single sign-on solution that gives students access to everything they need to learn, anywhere, with just one password. Accessible from any device, ClassLink is the perfect tool for ensuring the success of a 1:1 or BYOD initiative.

 

K-12 Cloud Computing and Desktop Virtualization

It’s time for K-12 schools to begin transitioning to “Cloud Computing and Desktop Virtualization”.

Why?

Cloud Computing and Desktop Virtualization have important educational and financial benefits. For the purposes of this post I am going to keep this very simple:

Whether educational tools and resources are located in the ‘Public Cloud’ or the ‘Private Virtualized Cloud’, they are accessible from anywhere, at anytime, via a web browser. This unlocks the resources of the school and makes them available 24x7x7. By doing so we extend learning opportunities and get more return on our software investment.

Schools utilizing this new paradigm are able to increase the number of computers available to students without increasing their budget because they can purchase less expensive devices. Because ‘Public Cloud’ and ‘Private Virtualized Cloud’ applications run on servers, the student device can be anything that can run a web browser, including a $300 Netbook, a $200 iTouch, or any Smartphone.

School IT support teams can be more productive because they are no longer maintaining dozens of educational applications on thousands of individual computer hard drives. The applications now reside on servers in the ‘Public Cloud’ or the ‘Private Cloud’. Since the software is on servers, software does not have to be ‘pushed out’ or ‘ghosted’ to every hard drive. The end-user’s computer accesses the servers and the new software and can use it immediately.

What first steps should I take?

Determine what applications and data you are comfortable having hosted in the Public Cloud, what applications will need to be hosted in your own Private Virtualized Cloud, and what applications will need to remain hosted on local hard drives. Remember that video and audio editing, computer programming, and some high end CAD applications may not be suited for the Public or Private Virtualized Cloud. Planning this hybrid environment is a great first step.

Make a commitment to subscribing to applications delivered from the Cloud. Begin researching alternatives to the software applications and resources that are currently loaded on your desktop hard drives. Whenever there are Web-based applications that are comparable to the hard drive-based applications, give precedence to the Web-based product even if it is not as feature rich and robust.

Begin planning the Private Virtualized Cloud by determining what desktop virtualization strategy you want to deploy:

The least expensive option called Client Virtualization allows for approximately (50) simultaneous users to share the server OS and whatever applications are being hosted.

Another option is called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). In this approach the entire end-user machine (Desktop OS, Applications, and Storage) is virtualized on the server. Obviously, fewer VDI desktops (approximately 20-25) can be hosted and run simultaneously on each server. This requires the purchase of more servers and OS licenses than in the Client Virtualization approach.

Although these are the main approaches to virtualization there are other strategies. In reality, most schools will likely employ both Client Virtualization and VDI strategies in their Private Cloud. The planning process will help determine which users use which strategy.

One final piece of advice as you begin this journey, find some independent technical experience and advice. Be careful here since Dell, HP, IBM. Microsoft, and others have connections with specific virtualization companies and thus, their specific virtualization strategies.

Here is a very thorough and well thought out article by Brian Madden on the topic:

“When to use VDI, when to use server-based computing”

Don’t stand still. Don’t be paralyzed by the new terminology or the seeming complexity. The benefits of the Public Cloud and the Private Virtualized Cloud are too important.

It’s time to begin the process of transitioning to the new paradigm.

pete

Should I Be Thinking About Moving to a One to One Model?

Without thinking about it consciously many of us change the emphasis of this question to make it a financial one that sounds like this: “Can I afford to go to a One to One model?” Our answer is generally, “No, I can barely afford the technology I have today!” When we think like this we believe we are being ‘realists’; but looking at educational technology this way shuts down many possibilities before we’ve fully explored them.

I like the approach that Bernajean Porter espouses:

Reality is too confining. If we are going to transform education, we need to let go of “reality”. If it is worth doing, then let’s do it. We should say “Yes!” first, then deal with questions of “How?” afterReality is too confining. If we are going to transform education, we need to let go of “reality”. If it is worth doing, then let’s do it. We should say “Yes!” first, then deal with questions of “How?” after.

If we keep deploying technology in the same ways we have for years, it seems to me, we are bound to continue getting the same results. It’s time for a new approach. One that puts technology in the hands of teachers and students so that they can move beyond the ‘many watching one’ model…

many watching one

….and ‘shared pencil’ approach that has dominated our classroom-based technology paradigms for decades.

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How can we move to One to One financially? technically? pedagogically? There are lot’s of strategies to explore. There is no One Perfect Way to travel this path. In just the last two years the emergence of low-cost Netbooks,  Smartphones, new wireless standards, and  the availability of broadband in the home have made the initial cost of One to One more affordable.

In addition, Cloud Computing, virtualization, blade servers, and other new technologies have made One to One more easy to manage. All in all, One to One is more accessible to the average school district than at any time in the last 30 years.

Many visionary districts have found the answers to their questions and have created dynamic new One to One environments for learning. Many are beginning the journey with a single grade level or a single pilot. If you aren’t exploring and plannng for One to One, you should be.

It all starts with saying,”Yes!”

pete

Pilot Opportunities


One-to-One  & Ubiquitous Computing

‘Pilot’ Opportunities

Ed Tech Journeys is seeking school districts interested in exploring the possibilities of One-to-One computing and desktop virtualization. Right now we are seeking districts for the 2009-2010 school year. To learn more contact me by e-mail:  preilly@edtechjourneys.com

You can get a good idea of what a proof of concept might entail by downloading a copy of one of the final Pilot Reports below:

Deer Park USFD One to One project completed in June 2009


The Shoreham-Wading River  CSD  One-to-One project completed in June 2009

The Wethersfield Schools (CT)  Virtualization project completed in June 2009


The Niagara-Wheatfield CSD  One-to-One project completed in March  2009

If you are interested in learning more, contact me:
preilly@edtechjourneys.com
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.

energy-use-chart

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.

thin-client-power-usage

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

thin-client-v-pc-graph

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

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