The campus server room is changing. If yours is not, it should be.
Gone are the days of multi-server email systems; multi-layer collaboration environments; redundant databases; tape-library backup platforms, and so many other resource-sinking reasons to keep the server room ice cold. If anything, the server room should be disappearing altogether.
Let me break it down piece by piece.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past decade, you certainly know of the impact Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is having. Not to be outdone, Microsoft has followed suit with its own offering to K12. There are others, but these two are the major players offering outsourced e-mail and collaboration.
There is no major reason you should not already be using a cloud-based email/collaboration system. There are places where bandwidth and/or politics make it impossible to go this route. Listen to the podcast interview with Joseph Christie from Alexandria, Egypt, and you’ll hear firsthand one of those scenarios where it is not possible to go that route yet. Everywhere else, though, I have yet to find a reason that makes me think different about this topic. I have heard some great excuses, though, and those don’t count. The schools that can and instead opt not to go this route usually have someone with control issues at the helm of the IT decision-making process, or even worse, an ill informed leadership structure.
If leadership is worried about losing connectivity, you can always configure the solution such that email is stored offline. For archiving purposes you can go with a service such as Google Vault or https://www.backupify.com/.
Read what I’ve written above a second time. The same companies offering cloud-based email usually offer storage and the ability to share files as well. Why keep all of that data on server disks that need to be replaced every 18-24 months? Worse, you don’t know when those spinning disks will stop spinning without warning.
It should not be the responsibility of the school to fund the systems used to store and backup personal photos/music/videos of staff, faculty and/or students. Each user should be responsible for his/her own data. Show them the way.
Most data-driven systems have a cloud-based option and/or equivalent. SIS’s such as PowerSchool, AdminPlus, Senior Systems and others have hosted options. There are companies like WhippleHill who are already web-based-only. Database services such as https://www.knackhq.com/ or http://www.zoho.com/ or even Salesforce.com can take the place of your campus-based systems. If you refuse to let go of your FileMaker application, you can move it to a service such as http://worldcloud.com/. IT helpdesk solutions such as freshdesk.com are all over the place. Many of those solutions also offer asset tracking as part of their services.
I could go on for a very long time with this, so I’ll just stop it here.
This is actually one of the easier ones to get done. If you have no budget to get this done, go over to GoDaddy or any of a thousand hosts and install WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Moodle or any other open source platform for your site. I have come to like WordPress as it is a very flexible platform for which you do not need a Masters to get going. Either as a static site, or a blogging platform, WordPress will get you there.
If you are on the budget-heavy side and can afford some additional features such power windows and a convertible top, check out FinalSite, WhippleHill or SchoolWires. Any of these platforms will relieve you of both your money and a headache. Though they are a bit of work to get going, it is well worth the investment as faculty/staff and you have full control of communication features, publishing, and some even offer additional features such as an SIS, a full Admissions component and more.
Onsite network authentication
For your campus-based computers, you could set up a small MacMini or a Microsoft domain controller to get your users on and off computers. Networking printing can be on the same box given the light load of those services.
Meraki is the clear winner here. If you want to do away with pricey controllers for your AP’s; and have the flexibility and freedom to get things done quick and easy, go with Meraki. There’s a good reason why Cisco bought the company. There are other players out there, but be sure they have a web-based management system instead of an onsite appliance.
Other network services
DNS, DHCP, L3 Routing, QoS and all of those services can run off an appliance such as your firewall and/or router. If you don’t have an onsite appliance capable of running these services, you can always configure these on your authentication box(es).
It is possible, and I have done it, to have a server room with only two servers in it. I had them configured as primary and secondary Active Directory as well as print server and a couple of other light services for logging printing and connectivity monitoring. In another school it was the same scenario, except I was using Apple servers hardware – when it was still being made and sold. Otherwise the network was very light on the administrative end, and the onus was placed on the end-user to manage their own environment.
Letting go of control was no easy feat for me, but once I was over the hump it was great to have my evenings and weekends back.
What got me thinking different was visiting one of those cloud companies a long time ago in NY. This was even before Google Apps for Education hit beta.
These large cloud companies hire the best and brightest computer scientists to secure data and manage all the necessary systems to get the service to you. I cannot compete with them; not on securing data, not on data transmission knowledge, not on creating backup platforms, and never on SLA’s. If my servers at school fail, I’m the only one that can get them going again. If a server in one of thousands of racks these companies have fails, they have entire engineering teams at the ready to keep things humming. They seldom skip a beat.
If you are proud of your server room, and are always showing it off to whoever will pay attention; enjoy it while it lasts.