Affordable PC labs for your school district

edubuntuThree years ago, A friend and I installed a computer lab in a K-8 parochial school. There were 14 workstations and a server. The computers were donated by Concordia University where my friend happened to be a professor in the computer science department. The workstations were actually thin clients and the server ran LTSP. Slackware 10 was the only choice for the OS as this was Jeff’s current pet Linux flavor – I’ve been an SVR4 junkie ever since. We had to pull all of the components together to get things to work, so our installation took the better part of our Saturday afternoon – but really, an afternoon with an old school guru, 15 computers and Linux wasn’t exactly an unpleasant experience.

It’s been three years now, and things have really changed on the “PC’s in education front”; enter edubuntu. This addition to the ubuntu family really makes the transition to mixed os environments a charm. It comes in two flavors; a server, and a client. (I do have a knack for the obvious.) The installation for the server is very straight forward. It comes with the best of Open Source software for kids installed – educational titles, edutainment titles, and just plain fun titles. There are excellent titles for class room management, testing administration, thin client management, title management, the list goes on.

Hardware requirements for the server can be broken down as such:

  • 256MB RAM for the system and then 128MB per simultaneous user. During lessons, most of the users should be running the same programs – this reduces memory use.
  • Processor speed is dependent on usage. Obviously, if your thin clients are running demanding applications, the server processor will get throttled. There is negligible degradation of performance across the network if only a few of the thin clients are using these types of programs.
  • RAID is recommended because of the data throughput requirements. Fault protection is nice too.

As far as thin clients go, if it can boot from the network, it will probably work. Here is the minimum and recommended hardware:

  • Minimum requirements – a 233MHz processor, 48MB RAM and 2MB RAM for video
  • Recommended hardware – a 400Mhz processor, 128MB RAM, and PXE boot capabilities

Nothing to the thin clients really, even brand new, each system should be under $200.00, with keyboard and mouse. Monitor type would be determined by budget and need. If you plan to have more than 10 users logged on regularly, gigabit Ethernet is recommended. Scalability is not a problem either. If a single server is getting overworked, just add another and they’ll work in tandem.

This is an excellent value for any K-12 organization. There are many age appropriate software titles available and LTSP is easy to setup and maintain. Small and large scale deployments will see significantly lower cost related to hardware and software purchases as compared to traditional proprietary systems. Speaking of proprietary, edubuntu and LTSP play nice with SMB (Windows) and Mac based network resources.

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