District?s decision to switch networks based on tech help

A major project scheduled this summer for Unified School District 410 involves considerable upkeep of its computer network system.

?Most of it involves cleaning up (the network system), upgrading the way things are done,? said Superintendent Doug Huxman.

Some of the upgrades will involve making some changes to hardware.

?For example, we have hardware equipment in the boiler room,? he said. ?By moving that, it would give a cleaner (network) environment.?

Besides upgrading its network system, the district plans to convert from Novell?s operating system to Microsoft?s. The cost of the project is $30,100, approved by the board of Education at last week?s meeting.

Twotrees Technologies of Wichita will oversee the project.

?They?ll be working with directing traffic on the network so everything?s not conflicting with everything else?more efficient and user-friendly,? Huxman said.

Twotrees is an education technology company that has been around for 25 years. It started in Emporia and the corporate office is now located in Wichita.

?We only work with school districts,? said Susie Smith, the Twotrees consultant who is working with USD 410. ?We don?t do any work with businesses at all.?

Plans to work on the network were set into motion after Twotrees conducted a network health check for the district.

?We were looking at their network infrastructure,? Smith said. ?It focused more on the cabling and how the traffic flows through the network and the speed and things like that.?

Following its review, Twotrees made recommendations for enhancing the network?s operation.

?We come up with a list of things (districts) can do to improve their network and we prioritize them because schools usually can?t afford to do everything at one time anyway,? Smith said.

Although not at the top of the list, Smith said she recommended that USD 419 switch from Novell to Microsoft.

?In the last five years, I?ve felt like that as a responsible vendor I needed to start talking to schools about converting to Microsoft,? Smith said.

While both Novell and Microsoft are good products, she said, hiring tech support for the network can affect costs.

?It?s not a matter of whether it?s a better system or not,? she said. ?It?s because for the simple fact that school districts are so tight on budgets that they have a hard time finding support people (for Novell). Now there?s three or four people here in Wichita that I can sub-contract to for Novell, and the Microsoft people are a dime a dozen.?

Software applications used by school districts also affect the bottom line.

?The other thing, too, is that a lot of applications you?re going to have at least one Microsoft server,? Smith said. ?There?s a lot of educational applications that will only run on Microsoft.?

The more different platforms needed, the more expensive the programming.

?Most of the market out there is Microsoft. So it?s cheaper to just program for Microsoft,? she said. ?So you make a choice.?

Twotrees will be converting seven servers of the district?s servers to Microsoft. Two are already Microsoft.

Smith said she has a lot of clients that run Novell.

?It?s just finding the people to help them,? she said. ?Young guys aren?t getting trained in Novell. It?s the older guys and they?re very good, but they also demand (higher compensation).?

Smith listed Salina, Emporia and Nickerson as districts that have converted from Novell to Microsoft. USD 411 Goessel also runs Microsoft.

?Hillsboro will be the third switchover we?re doing this summer,? she said.

One of those districts is Renwick, similar in size the USD 410.

Renwick?s conversion has gone smoothly, she said. It involved seven workdays to copy all the data on servers, change to Microsoft and then transfer all the data back on the servers.

Last year, Peabody also switched from Novell to Microsoft.

?One reason we were looking to change originally was because we needed a bigger backup and Novell was limited on the backups,? said Gary Nesser, technology director at USD 398 Peabody-Burns. ?In other words, it was going to be expensive to go a lot bigger backup.

?With the Windows server, I can use hard drives to back up so much easier. It was cheaper to be able to convert and do that than going the other way.?

Nesser said the transition has worked well.

?We?ve been running it over a year now with no security issues and it ends up being cheaper,? Nesser said. ?It?s easier to get support?I?m more experienced with it?so in general for me, us and our applications, it works better all the way around.?

In contemplating the change for USD 410, Huxman consulted other people??all more tech-oriented than I,? he said.

Several had experience in moving from one operating system to another, and a number had worked with both systems.

The consensus, he said, seemed to be that moving to Microsoft would be ?to our benefit?more client-friendly and more efficient.?

Spending the money to change operating systems may concern some.

?I know some people disagree with that,? he said, ?but the people I talked to felt that was something for us would be best.?

Concerning the timing to change systems, Huxman said several factors came into play, including separating network systems that had been shared with Marion.

?We had this network with Marion that was one and the same, and it was time to separate it,? he said.

?I think that everything I understood from the operating system we had, somewhere down the line in the not-too-distant, there?s probably going to be some changes there as well. So if we?re going to do some changes, might as well do that now.?

Editor?s note: The district approved a contract to hire Jason Henry as the new technology director at a special meeting of the board on Monday, June 23.

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