Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Wireless Reality at BVSD

​We have come to expect and rely on wireless access, especially now that smartphones and other mobile technologies have become ubiquitous. Unfortunately, the demand of these devices regularly exceeds the capabilities of the BVSD wireless networks in schools and at the Ed Center.

BVSD’s wireless network is over 6 years old and was designed before iPads and smartphones existed. It was designed for wide coverage, meaning that most areas in a building have access. However, it was not designed for density, which restricts the number of devices that can be connected at the same time.

This situation is the cause of widespread frustration with our wireless network capability, especially as we continue to add iPads, netbooks, and other mobile devices to classrooms.

There is no comprehensive short-term solution to this problem. The cost to upgrade the entire wireless infrastructure at BVSD is estimated at over 2.5 million dollars, with over 1 million needed just for high schools. In the long term, we are looking for one-time money or a temporary technology mill levy override, which would need voter approval, to provide the needed funds.  

Depending on how much money can be raised, one potential fix would be to upgrade the high schools and redistribute their older wireless access points to the middle and elementary schools to fill gaps in coverage and density. However, this would be a short-term fix for the middle and elementary schools due to the age of the devices.

Despite the known issues with wireless coverage, we are not limiting the number of mobile devices that your school can purchase. However, we do want you to be aware of the limitations that may exist in your school or building before you invest. IT would be happy to survey specific areas of your school if you are planning to purchase more mobile equipment. Knowing our wireless capabilities up front may save you time, money, and frustration.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

The BVSD Move to the Cloud

The phrase “cloud computing” is everywhere these days, but what does it mean?

Cloud computing means that we access hardware (like servers) and software over the internet rather than from a server hosted at our location. Cloud computing is everywhere -- you use it every time you perform an online search, login to your bank account, or check your email. There is a great explanation of how cloud computing works in this video from Common Craft.

One analogy for cloud computing is the electric company. In the early 1900s, companies used to generate their own electricity. But these generators became cumbersome and difficult to manage as their energy needs increased, so companies began buying their electricity from large entities with the capacity to provide electricity quickly and in large quantities. Today it seems silly that an individual company would generate its own power, outside of supplemental solar power. In 5-10 years, having large data centers filled with computer servers will be a thing of the past, too.

BVSD has already started moving to cloud computing. When we moved our email and calendars to Google last year, we moved those services from a locally hosted server into “the cloud”. In this case, the cloud simply means that the servers are located in a Google facility somewhere. Large companies like Google and Amazon have huge facilities called server farms, and they employ experts whose only job is to make the servers run smoothly. Instead of individual companies and organizations maintaining their own servers, they now leverage the size, security, and scalability of server farms.

You may have noticed that your email storage space increased significantly when we transitioned to Google. This is a great example of the size and scalability of cloud computing: if your data needs increase, there will always be plenty of server space to meet your needs immediately.

Another advantage of cloud computing is that you can access your data from anywhere. Before we transitioned to Google, your email was stored on a local server. You could only access your email if you were on the BVSD network or if you used a web application that didn’t provide all the functionality of our regular email client. Now, your Google mail is accessible from anywhere, on any device.

We are moving other applications into the cloud, too. In January we will move Lawson (HR/Payroll, Finance). Eventually we will also move Infinite Campus and SharePoint into the cloud.

So the next time you hear about the cloud, you’ll know that it refers to a service that you access over the internet, from any device, anytime, anywhere.

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