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Old 06-30-2009, 09:23 AM   #1
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Question School Admins out there -- need some advice

First some background: I'm pretty new in the networking world. I graduated with a Networking Degree two years ago (June '07). I worked for the first year (almost to the day) at a computer shop, doing house calls and working with more "hardware" issues. Starting June '08, I began working for the local school system. I am the only IT person here. This first year has been about learning the software and the current setup. I think I have that down pretty good now. However, there are a few things I would like to do that I need some advice on.

1. Parent Notification Systems -- I have looked into several and haven't seen much difference except price. I'm looking for some recommendations from anyone out there using one (good or bad).

2. Virtualization -- Does anyone have virtual servers or virtual labs? If so how is it working, easyily setup, what software, etc?

3. How do you update your computers? Do you push them down off the server or do you have all the computers update automatically? If you use the server what do you use and links to set it up properly?

4. Any advice that you might have would be helpful and gladly accepted.

5. Any "must have" software you use for any purposes. The stuff you use everyday and couldn't live without.


Thanks for any help you can give and I guess if you can provide answers to any issues, then you don't have to be a school admin to help. Thanks again!
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Old 06-30-2009, 11:41 AM   #2
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Default Re: School Admins out there -- need some advice

don't work in a school but do work at an organisation that has a load of servers.

1, don't know the answer, -but whatever you do use make sure that it works.
i remember a story on the register where the parents of a deceased student were sent a letter advising them of their daughters absence from exams that she should be sitting.
2, virtualisation is OK, for making machines that can be quickly and easily destroyed wiped and put back to normal it's definitely the way to go i feel.

that said with that method you have to shut down all sessions, delete the vdk files and replace them, so it's a simple task. the only problem I think that there is there is that your workstations have to connect to a virtual server.

you might want to look at something like RIS so that you can rebuild workstations easily, setting up unattended installs (just turn it on, let it network boot and a couple of hours later you have your PC built, added to the domain, all the software installed etc).

personal advice is use vmware, not MS virtual machine. one is good, the other is not. (both can be free).
if you're using VMware then consider the server that you're running the tutorial stuff on. if you have a class of 30 learning web programing for example, can your server support 30 server desktops running 30 webservers, with another 30 machines that are database servers for the application back end? -I doubt that! so would it make more sense to not go with virtual servers for labs. perhaps if you really want to do this set up VM servers on the individual workstations. (so one workstation is running a VM for a web server, with another VM for a database server for instance). 1 generic workstation could easily support 2 VMs and the OS it's running itself, you'd need a pretty mighty server to support 60 VMs!
(and still you'll need masses of disk space). imagine for example that each student in a class has 2 VM images stored on their user profile, that's say 20GB total, now you have 1000 students in the school... that's 20,000GB (20TB), before there is any other work saved.

bottom line, virtual labs/virtual servers for learning can be great, they are easily wiped, easily backed up, and allow the hardware to be recycled between different year groups, (so year 1 students can use their own server (virtualised) year 2 students get their own private servers as well).
but you could end up finding that it's more of a headache to teach with virtualisation than without it. due to learning to use vm's issues, disk space issues, performance issues etc.


3, updates, WSUS, windows server update services, though it's not just for servers. put the machines in groups and you push updates out to a machine and they install it, simple piece of cake to use, one time set-up, and ensures that all your machines are up to date without you having to go to each and every one.

4, logon scripts and group policy, especially group policy, lock down workstation, enforce password policies. install software at logon on a load of machines without even visiting the workstations.

4 (part 2), key loggers screen sniffing software - don't bother, they are over priced, and bring additional risk to the machines, if you don't want people going to specific websites then block them at the gateway using a proxy server or something.


5, for group policy installations an MSI packager will be very good,
log file analyser will let you take a log file from a proy server and make it make sense in seconds rather than hours of manually going through the logs.
remote desktop software is practically essential if you like just sitting at your desk and not moving, (like I do).
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Old 06-30-2009, 05:22 PM   #3
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Default Re: School Admins out there -- need some advice

Vmware is a good virtualization software packages, its good if you have alot of servers running non intensive programs and just want one central point of administration
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Old 07-02-2009, 08:23 AM   #4
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Default Re: School Admins out there -- need some advice

The virtualization I'm looking to do will involve moving one of my servers to a virtual server on another one of my servers. What do you think of that?
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Old 07-03-2009, 11:34 AM   #5
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Default Re: School Admins out there -- need some advice

for consolidating low use servers VMs are ideal.
bear in mind that it's a single point of failure though.
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Old 07-03-2009, 12:26 PM   #6
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Default Re: School Admins out there -- need some advice

Quote:
Originally Posted by jmacavali View Post
First some background: I'm pretty new in the networking world. I graduated with a Networking Degree two years ago (June '07). I worked for the first year (almost to the day) at a computer shop, doing house calls and working with more "hardware" issues. Starting June '08, I began working for the local school system. I am the only IT person here. This first year has been about learning the software and the current setup. I think I have that down pretty good now. However, there are a few things I would like to do that I need some advice on.

1. Parent Notification Systems -- I have looked into several and haven't seen much difference except price. I'm looking for some recommendations from anyone out there using one (good or bad).
Not really sure on that. We use Capita's SIMS.net to record attendance and behaviour, amongst other things, and it allows you to create attendance letters to be sent home, but I'm not really sure how it works. I just know that it can do things like that (to an extent, at least).

Quote:
Originally Posted by jmacavali View Post
3. How do you update your computers? Do you push them down off the server or do you have all the computers update automatically? If you use the server what do you use and links to set it up properly?
WSUS for this. However, it's advisable to test updates on a machine before rolling them out across the school. Even with that, though, you'll get caught out at some point. We rolled out a batch of updates a while ago and a single computer ended up with the update conflicting with another piece of software and this stopped the computer from being able to log on to the domain (or indeed even see it). So be a little careful before you approve updates for deployment.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jmacavali View Post
4. Any advice that you might have would be helpful and gladly accepted.
I don't know what it's like where you are, but here the teaching staff seem to think they're above (and, thus, more important than) the support staff. They snap their fingers and treat you as inferiors - don't let them! Be professional about it, though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jmacavali View Post
5. Any "must have" software you use for any purposes. The stuff you use everyday and couldn't live without.
Microsoft ISA Server, if you can get it. A web-content filtering system, such as Websense, is very good to have. On our Exchange server we run something called GFI Content Monitor. You can put keywords in to it and if an email is sent containing those, it will bounce back to the sender.

On our print server we run something called PCounter. It lets you assign printing credit to users and stops them printing when their balance reaches zero. Very handy if you don't want people to be printing off tons of stuff.


If you've got any specific questions about something related to being a school system admin in the future, feel free to ask. I'm only fourteen months in to the job, but I've picked up a lot so far. I know how intimidating it was when I first started, so I'd like to pass on any information I can to
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Old 07-06-2009, 06:44 AM   #7
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Default Re: School Admins out there -- need some advice

Thanks everyone for the help. Some very good ideas that I'll look into.
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Don't take life too seriously -- no one gets out alive. Plus, who wants to arrive to the hereafter in pristine condition wearing a suit and tie?
I want to slide in sideways, worn out, used up, hair a mess, clothes tattered, & screaming, "Whooo! What a ride!"
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