Being a last grade high schooler with an above average interest in CS and related, I find the state of ICT at my school quite not workable.
Over the years at school, the system has been revised several times in several ways. First there was Novell Netware, also called crapware. They switched to using native windows. This was a good thing. Then they started to restrict more and more. Eventually also a good thing, saved them time repairing computers. But then it went from workable to.. well, unworkable.
Incompetent Computer Techs
Thanks Heath for the title
The school computers are not as good as they can be
Last year they replaced all computers, more than a hundred, with brand new quadcores. The network, both intranet and internet, are very, very fast. Still they manage to have applications boot very slow, and have slow internet for the same reason as why the applications boot so slow. Why? They use VMWare ThinApp. This is a tool to pack all application files into a single portable executable. When an application is fired it is loaded from a central server and booted. This is to ease updating of applications, as the files come from one central file, instead being copied on each single computer.
But this has several downsides, for example the two I named above. Firefox can be easily around 40MB when installed, this means that for every start of Firefox, 40MB is transferred. This is not as bad, until a complete classroom logs in and boots up their programs. This can bring the complete network to a halt. The other downside is that settings are forgotten. They are simply overwritten when restarting the application.
The other big issue is the screwed up WiFi network
At the end of the big computer renewal, a WiFi network was installed, covering the complete school. Sweet. Well… first they decided it was fun if thy blocked all ports except a few. For the CS class I (teach and) participate in, quite a few tools, some essential, where rendered useless. For example, GIT. We couldn’t work at school anymore.
Then they put an (extra) layer of protection on the WiFi. When opening the browser, you were forwarded to a login page, requiring you to login with your school’s network-account. No problem, only that it does not work constantly on all devices. Some times you have an endless loading, sometimes you are not even forwarded to the login pages, or get a white page after logging in. Generally poking the ICT people helps, but they managed to break it again after a few days.
Why students know better
Thanks Martijn for the title
When asking for a catchy title for a blog post about whining about school ICT, someone suggested ‘Why students know better’. That made me decide to not just whine about it but to also offer some ideas and suggestions.
Computer messup mania
Well, the biggest fear of a computer service team at a high school is having to repair loads of computers every day being messed up by bored students. The second biggest fear is having to update every PC every day. Well, that’s actually what every ICT team hates. And hey, there is a combined solution! Enter network boot. Every night, boot every computer from a central server and have it overwrite the HDD with a fresh image. There you go, no crap, all software at their latest version.
(WiFi) Network misuse
They currently block a wide range of ports. This disallows many services, including GIT/ssh and connecting to a remote desktop. There are several solutions to this:
- White list more ports, possibly per student/group. This is possible as you have to login anyway.
- Open everything up. As you are logged in, every network action can be traced back to you, and they can block you access to the complete network.
- Keep it closed and have a bunch of angry students as well teachers.
Remember application settings
Currently user documents are saved on a network drive. No issue, pretty fast. But as they are using ThinApp, settings are not saves at all. The solution I brought up for keeping the computers fresh solves this as well. Apps can run from the computer itself, and settings can be saved on the network drive. Just like at home.
Speed up the network and application boot
Well, if the first solution is followed, the network returns to it’s old speed, as the network only is used for updating at night, and the programs come from the PC you’re using.
It was a relief to rant about my experiences at my school concerning the ICT. I know I’m lucky to have a fast network at all, as well global WiFI, it’s just that it doesn’t work properly.