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I've recently been engaged to do IT support and administration for a 120 student private school with about 30 staff and teachers.

Major systems include Cisco ASA firewall, two newish Dell MS Server 2008 servers, school grading and finance database, Active Direcotory, wireless access for teacher laptops, school computer lab with 25 or so pc's.

I've plenty of experience with small/medium business, MS and Cisco, but this is the first school I've worked in.

Anyone have suggestions for best practices, management tools, etc that would be specific to such an environment?

I'm wondering if moving to a virtual desktop environment for the lab pc's would be a good goal, or Windows Steady State, or disk imaging etc would be good. Currently not certain what if any such systems are in place...


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7 Answers 7

Others have already suggested creating a standard image for the lab systems.

I would take this a step further - leverage wake-on-LAN and PXE to set up push-deployment. This would let you re-image one or more (or all) of the systems at will, without needing to be physically at the machines.

This would even give you the flexibility to set up multiple different images, and choose which systems get which image, based on what's needed at any given point.

Of course, you'd want to take precautions to ensure that students couldn't kick off the build process.

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At my former school, we've used Opsi (it's open source) to manage all the computers there (it's compatible with Windows, Linux & Mac).

You can setup your own windows images for installation on the various computers and then maintain them (for example install additional software, check the hardware & software, etc.). Additionally you can edit the software configuration you want to be installed, or spread new service packs to your network.

It has a web frontend, too - so you can can do all management from just one place. We've already deployed this at our small company here and it saved us lots of time since then.

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You may want to look at Citrix Provisioning Server for Desktops. It's great solution for such an environment, because you only have one image to manage for software updates and patches. The other bonus is that you can typically us all of your existing hardware, so it makes the solution cheaper and easier to put in place. Please note that this is not a virtualization solution, but instead an operating streaming solution and I'm not aware of any other competitors. Here is a link to the product info: http://www.citrix.nl/English/ps2/products/product.asp?contentID=1297541, and a recent discussion about the cost of setting it up: http://www.brianmadden.com/forums/t/27336.aspx

If you want to look for further information about the product, then you may have better luck looking for under its previous name "Ardence Desktop Edition" before Citrix bought them.

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For the labs, I'd be interested to see what people are doing with Windows 7's ability to boot from VHD's in these kinds of environments. Combine non-write VMs with offline windows updating, and you've got a recipe for a zero maintenance environment.

This should be a fun topic to watch.

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Your solution sounds intriguing, but at the same time scary and makes me wonder how easy this would be to manage. Has MS really polished this feature in a way so that it could be used like this I thought it was more a proof of concept implementation. –  mrTomahawk May 30 '09 at 12:23

We have a ton of schools who use our product (Admin Arsenal, www.AdminArsenal.com) to manage the environment from collecting inventory to deploying software to monitoring and even sending remote commands.

As far as best practice or advise; we've learned over the last few years that schools often have very little money that they're willing to spend on IT, so teachers are often loading freeware or shareware apps (.pdf readers, word processors, math tools, etc.) onto their laptops. These can cause a bit of a headache, especially when the products try and auto update themselves. It's best to know what's installed (inventory tool).

As far as reimaging the lab systems, we've seen that it needs to occur far more often than just semester change. Students have a way of really mucking the systems up, and ghost is a common solution for quickly restoring. Just be sure that your image doesn't have any dup id's or you'll have a real pain.

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For a quick restore; have a computer set up exactly how you want it to be, use ghost to create an image of the current state. Now whenever some kid fiddles around and makes the PC unusuable (or perhaps a tad worse), all you have to do is reimage it and it's good to go. You can let it run and do something else while it does that. (This is assuming all data is stored off the local drive -- that is you have drives mapped for data storage (home drives))

As for your other concerns, group policies should take care of 90% of things.

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I work for IBM and we have education solutions for all levels of school system. From K-12, to high school, to university/college grade solutions.


there are many different solutions available and many schools have been working towards going towards E-desktops/virtual desktops. Also there is education discounts as well to make all these technologies affordable and within reach of most institutions.

Cheers, Steve

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