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  1. #1

    Dos_Box's Avatar
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    Open Source, Outsourcing and Schools

    Here is a link from Paul Trotter at PC Advisor:


    Open source in schools could save the taxpayer billions

    March 04, 2008

    Posted by: John Spencer

    In a 2005 report the Government quango Becta showed that schools could effect considerable savings by making use of Free Open Source software such as Open Office. In their study they simply looked at “like for like” software replacement using existing networks and computers.

    Since this study we have seen the emergence of the new breed of ultra-portable Linux-based computers aimed squarely at the education sector and the inexorable build of Web 2 services such as Google Apps.

    This week the Elonex One, a Linux-based laptop costing less than £100, was launched at the Education Show in Birmingham causing much excitement amongst the visitors and a very serious discussion about how best to support this new breed of Linux laptops in schools.

    So much has changed so quickly that a model of Open Source school computing is emerging which could save the UK taxpayer billions of pounds and provide enormous opportunities for the home-grown technology sector based around Open Source software.
    The problem

    The Government does not produce figures for the total cost of ICT in schools. Our research shows however that when staffing and power use are included a typical secondary school will spend between £100,000 - £200,000 per year on ICT.

    Scale this figure for the whole UK and it approximates to over £½ billion per year.

    Contrary to common perception, however, only a small fraction of the cost of ICT in schools is spent on computers and software - 60% of the cost is on technical support and 20% on electricity.

    Quite simply, school networks have become too complex for the purpose they serve.

    The answer is to simplify the school ICT infrastructure and lower services by outsourcing more services.

    Outsourced services based on free Open Source software such as e-mail, content filtering and remote backup are entirely appropriate to an education sector:

    * Content filtering using Dan's Guardian is very powerful and scalable.
    * E-mail: Sophisticated and secure Open Source. Large scale e-mail deployments using GOsa management tools, Squirrelmail webmail and LDAP authentication.
    * Rsync: Remote off-site, secure incremental back-up technology.

    Examples of where such services already exist are a bi-lingual webmail system accessible to all schools in Carmarthenshire County and the fully managed web content filtering infrastructure available to all schools within the Yorkshire and Humberside region.

    In both cases the use of free, Open Source technologies has driven exceptional value compared to similar systems deployed using proprietary software.
    Simplifying on-site infrastructure

    Much of the complexity and management burden to schools comes the sheer number of computers needing maintenance - typically 100-500 desktop PCs and approximately eight network servers (file-authentication server, MIS database server, e-mail server, Intranet server, VLE server, thin-client server, web content filtering servers and a firewall).

    But what ICT services do students really require from their school?

    * Access to suitable software for teaching and learning
    * E-mail
    * Safe access to the Internet
    * A home folder for personal file storage
    * Access to shared resources (e.g. Intranet, VLEs, Public Folders, Databases)

    How does the emerging model for Open Source in ICT meet these essential needs?

    The new low-cost Linux sub-notebooks have a very large range of Free Open Source applications already installed and many more available for free download, certainly enough for 95% of all educational needs. Many more applications are available on line through Web 2.0 technologies.

    E-mail and safe Internet access will be outsourced.

    Home folders and shared resources can be provided by one computer. By using Internet protocols and abandoning the venerable Windows SMP/CIFS protocols all of these services can be provided by one Open Source database/web server.

    If schools moved their ICT to this model the spiral of ever increasing cost and complexity would be broken.

    Becta, having twice warned schools against upgrading to Vista or Office 2007, has effectively signalled a halt to what has been an unbroken series of expensive and increasingly ineffective upgrades. It seems 2008 is the year when schools should take stock and rethink their strategic approach to ICT.

    The rewards for change are very substantial. Schools would reduce their costs by 4/5ths producing not only an enormous saving to the taxpayer but making it possible to adapt to new developments in ICT and focus more resources on teaching. New opportunities would be created for the domestic technology industry and there would be far less dependence on dominant multinational suppliers.
    Discuss. Politely please.

  2. #2

    webman's Avatar
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    Excuse me but which planet is he on?

  3. #3

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    Our 'backend systems' are mostly *nix based now, with more stuff being transferred all the time. I just have a few file servers and DHCP/DNS left. Ironically, probably the easiest things to transfer.

    Obviously we'll be running an AD based domain for the forseeable future (there really isn't any OSS equivelent I can replace it with). But there's no reason why the DC's required to run this have to physically exist. I'm very tempted (assuming I can find some money) to fold these 'light use' sort of systems into one or more VMware servers.

    Several rooms full of PCs have been replaced with *nix based thin clients. Obviously the servers are Windows/Citrix. But that's because we still need to run Windows software applications.

    So basically, what he is describing, we're 90% there. However I think we'll be 90% there for a very long time. We clearly can't move entirely from Windows desktops/laptops or the associated vast software investment.

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    SimpleSi's Avatar
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    I don't have much of a problem with much of this apart from the glaring
    Contrary to common perception, however, only a small fraction of the cost of ICT in schools is spent on computers and software - 60% of the cost is on technical support and 20% on electricity.
    Last year, which was a bad year for ICT Spending (as its no longer ring-fenced) the school who spent the least spent about £4000 on curric ICT - I cost them £1800/year.

    Another one of my schools spent closer to £10,000 (At the same cost of £1800/year for support)

    I would be flabbergasted if the ratio was not far more with you big boys and girls.

    Now maybe in BSF schools .....

    get me his email address



  5. #5

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    I also have no issue with the technical model he describes, as long as he can convince the SMT, staff, and students to invest the time & money in retraining and underpins his 'solution' with a full & detailed cost of ownership business case to support it.

    One important point has been overlooked; why do some school support costs take up a significant percentage of school ICT spend?

    I believe much of this is due to relatively low ICT skills across our user base, which demands high levels of 'hands-on' support. The workload agreement signed between the Govt, Employers and trade unions says that teachers should not be expected to carry out problem determination as part of their responsibilities, as a consequence of this (and their variable levels of skills) there is an almost continual demand for techical support in the classroom for even the most trivial of technical problems like a cable being unplugged. While these are trivial to resolve, they can have a major impact on the delivery of a lesson & so they cannot wait so you need adequate levels of local support onsite.

    The other aspect of the support cost is to do with innovation. In many schools the ICT support staff are actively involved in designing and implementing new technologies to support their schools as their curriculum continues to evolve. He fails to point out how this would work in a school stripped of all but the lowest technical support skills. Presumably it would be done by external suppliers and consultants at £1000 a day?

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    localzuk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SimpleSi View Post
    I don't have much of a problem with much of this apart from the glaring

    Last year, which was a bad year for ICT Spending (as its no longer ring-fenced) the school who spent the least spent about £4000 on curric ICT - I cost them £1800/year.

    Another one of my schools spent closer to £10,000 (At the same cost of £1800/year for support)

    I would be flabbergasted if the ratio was not far more with you big boys and girls.
    Well, we had a look at our ICT spend this year and I have spent close to £100k on hardware. Add in software purchases and you end up with a price of around £115k. I get about £18.5k before tax. The cost of electricity for our machines, if left on 24/7, would be about £35k.

    So, his ratio is well off for us. 11% support, 69% purchasing, 20% electricity. So, his power figure would be correct if we left everything on all the time, which we don't, so you can halve it and increase the other 2 appropriately.

    On the model of computing he suggests, he is suggesting a one laptop per child infrastructure. The support overhead for such a system is higher than the support system in place now! And to suggest that a single server is sufficient for each task underestimates the use made of servers in some situations. He also fails to recognise the use of multimedia in schools, so video editing and storage etc...

    But then, I do agree that schools could be saving a lot more money by using open source software solutions - we saved roughly £20k by going for an asterisk based phone system for example. Outsourcing is not going to save much money in the long term though.

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