Run Self Hosted Tech Without Your School Building

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Imagine you have had to evacuate your high school. Could you facilitate your classes and business processes without physically being in your building?

If most of your infrastructure is  in a cloud based environment, odds are you can maintain business continuity without your building. You might need an office or some type of staging area, but your organization can still meet it’s core requirements.

But what if you are self-hosted? What if most of your systems rely on infrastructure and data that is on premises?

This is an important conversation senior management and all the creative thinkers in your organization need to have. Here are some ideas to help guide you through the process and make (or test) your plan.

Choose a Secondary Location

Before anything technical happens, choose a secondary location to run your operations. Assume that the current location, and immediate area around the current location, are off-limits. Where can you affordably establish and maintain an operational space?

The space would need to include:

  1. Enough space for the core team to work
  2. Basic communication resources
  3. Hardcopies of data that is required to contact parents, students, and teachers
  4. Hardcopies of schedules and other data that are needed for basic school operations
  5. Basic supplies and consumables (even food and water) for the team to work for at least 14 days

Remember, this requires some minimalism. People could rotate in and out, but the core team should be as small as possible. Anyone who can work from home, should work from home.

If you can maintain business continuity without technology, then by all means try to achieve this. Every new requirement will only add complexity to the situation.

If you need technology, keep reading.

Create a Portable Network

For any data to flow inside or outside of the secondary location, a computer network is required. Here are some core items that would be required in a normal metropolitan/urban/suburban area where the mobile service has not been disrupted:

  1. One 4-5G router (if these are not available, then two or three 4-5G hotspots/wifi eggs)
  2. One high speed router to allow network and wifi customization
  3. 5-10 individual LAN cables; 1-3 Meters each; longer cables look messy but add flexibility
  4. 5-10 power extensions with sockets; avoid cheap ones
  5. Cable ties, double sided-tape, duct tape, and a few box knives

This setup will connect to the internet, and allow the small group of users to get online.

The environment will most likely be small, so maintaining basic safety when rigging equipment is essential. Damaged equipment will be difficult to manage during any type of emergency. Preventing trip wires prevents damage.

Create Portable Data

Many organizations have offsite servers that mirror their data. These organizations can keep operating without their normal infrastructure.

Most schools do not do this. Most schools cannot afford to do this. If the school is using an online classroom environment, then maintaining classes will be fairly simply as long as there is a protocol to follow. For all academics functions, creating a protocol. This should include:

  1. Attendance for teachers and students (time stamped, and strictly followed)
  2. Mimic the course schedule; when a teacher should be in math class, they should be online answering questions about math; they need to follow their schedule
  3. Establish office hours and lunch to provide some break time and organization
  4. Assign administrators to contact teachers for daily feedback and summaries
  5. Assign administrators to randomly contact students for daily feedback and summaries
  6. Send parents status updates on the situation at the same time everyday, unless a critical time sensitive issue presents itself

Using an online classroom system for your day-to-day teaching is not a requirement to have an online classroom system. A school can setup a Google Classroom or Microsoft Classroom environment for emergencies. These are usually free with educational licensing. These classroom environments need to be kept up-to-date with enrollment and scheduling.

There are a few other ways to run online classes without these cloud services, the cost is higher, but it is totally feasible. If you need this type of information, please email me: tony.deprato@gmail.com

Data files, such as spreadsheets and text documents, will be required for business functions. You may have an emergency where going into the campus is not prohibited. Retrieving hardware will be difficult and the outcome uncertain. Relying on external drives is not a great idea unless a set of those drives is stored off campus on a regular schedule.

Offsite storage is easy to manage using systems like Resilio Sync. The assumption is that the school does not want to use any cloud services. Using a peer-to-peer system would send copies daily from one location directly to the next.

There are other ways to sync files from one private location to another. Feel free to email and inquire.

Not Complete But Enough to Get Started

There are many options when designing these plans. Even if you feel the ideas here are not feasible, the questions raised are worth answering. The thought exercise should help develop policies and procedures for all stakeholders.

Administrators should be engaging their IT teams to find out how data is saved, where it is saved, and how it can be accessed. IT teams should be engaging administrators to determine the minimum core requirements for maintaining business continuity, and the total amount of downtime the organization can withstand.

 

Back That Thing Up!

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It happens more often than you think: hard drive failure, corrupted RAM, broken screen, logic board failure. It is all pretty awful and the end result is the same. Your computer is unusable and your data is therefore unreachable, and all you can do is plant your palm on your face, rampage around the room, cry a little and/or hang your head in despair for a little bit. It seems horrific and most people just don’t think that it will happen to you, but it will . . . one day. So don’t wait for it to happen, do something about it. Be proactive and start back in your computer up. I’m not just talking about students and teachers here – I’m talking about everyone. Don’t let Tommy Boy give you tech advice (see above).

The good news is that there are a lot of options out there for you to back up and some are free. So let’s get to it.

Pick and chose
If you’re looking for a right now solution then I’ve got one for you and chances are you probably already have access to it and don’t even know it yet. If you have a Gmail account or a Hotmail account then you’re in luck. You can use Google and Microsoft’s respective online storage drive already! That’s right, each of those will give you 30 GB of online storage and while there are some limitations to each (no copyrighted materials, no pornography and the such) it is a great way to quickly back up your important files for school or otherwise. You just need to sign into to it and then drag your files over.

Both will accept just about any file type (even if it can’t open it) and of course once they are there It is easy as pie to share those files with your friends, colleagues or teachers. I’ll write a more detailed guide later on but all you need to do is sign into your email and then go to the respective sites below. In fact, both let you create documents right inside these environments so check them out.

Another similar option is Dropbox and SugarSync (there are others too). They give you a bit more control of what you can upload and sport some other cool features.
This is probably the quickest way for you to back up your important data. The downside is that if you have a lot of files it can be a bit of work to keep everything organized. Also, these options are just online so you do need an Internet connection.

Back it all up
While the above option is great for your documents and individual files when you start factoring in music, photos and videos that 30GB fills up really fast and of course there is software. While most software will let you re-download it again for free, it is a pain. There is also some software companies that will require you to pay for the product again if a newer one is out (Microsoft does this), so it’s hard to backup all these products in your Google Drive or SkyDrive. So backing up on an external hard drive is probably your best option here. The question is how do you do that? Good news reader – There are a lot of options out there and I’ll cover some of the more popular ones.

If you have a Mac, then you need to check out Time Machine. It is already installed on your computer and works pretty well. You need to purchase a hard drive the same size or larger than your hard drive, plug it into your Mac. It will ask if you want to use it as a Time Machine backup – you say yes and that’s it! Your music, photos, software, documents – all backed up. To read all the nitty gritty details check them out from Apple’s own site here. This is what I use and it has saved me on more than one occasion.

Windows also has its own built in back up utility as well called File History. While I use a Mac, I’ve heard this system works just fine and is reliable.

While these two are good, they don’t give you a lot of options or control. It just backs up. So if you’re looking for a little more control there are plenty of options out there. One of the more popular ones is CrashPlan from Code42. CrashPlan is completely free works with Windows and Macs and is quite easy. Now there are others out (a lot as a matter of fact) so I encourage you to search, try them out and find the one that works for you. Some give you tons of control while others are just straight forward and easy to use. To start your research just Google it. There will be no shortage of reviews, guides and advice out there.

One might ask, is it worth it to buy an external hard drive? I say yes – think of it as insurance. What if your computer does go kaputt. With a local back up you can quickly and easily restore your workspace and get back to work a lot sooner than having to download everything and recreate everything. Here is a conversation I had with a student the other day.

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Backing it up in the cloud
Having a back up locally is good but it’s always a good idea to have another one and what better place to back that up than online? Again there are plenty of choices out there. Two of the more popular sites are Carbonite and CrashPlan has an online solution too. Their not free but the price is usually very reasonable (around $5 per month). The downside is that it takes a bit of time to upload all that info and of course you need to be online to do this, but it is a great addition to have to that external hard drive.

The harsh reality
If your computer fails and you haven’t backed anything up it will ruin your entire frickin’ day and you’ll probably be a bit angry too, but make sure you direct that anger where it belongs: to yourself. Backing up is easy, affordable and there are plenty of options and different ways to do it and there is just no excuse not to. I have seen at least 6 different people this school year who have lost their data due to some type of computer failure this year and I am sure I will see more. In some cases we were able to recover some data but in others it was just gone and there was nothing anyone can do about it. That totally sucks. Don’t be caught in that position where years worth of work is gone.

Hopefully this little post will get you start backing up your data – remember it’s all up to you.

Patrick Cauley
www.thetechjonsey.com

Podcast episode 62 – Omar’s RICH!

itbabble_podcast

Humdinger is the adjective used to describe this week’s podcast. I am joined by Omar and Tony as we discuss and probe the inner workings of educational technology . . . and some other stuff.

  1. Happy birthday Kendra, Aidan and Hardi
  2. Tony’s post Backup to Fail or Backup to Win
    1. We added this as an essential tech skills last  week
  3. I’m RICH! – Patrick’s post about how wealth compares across the world not just your home country
  4. How could you use this in class?
    1. ITGS ideas?
    2. How rich are you?
  5. How to Escape the Cult of “Busy” by Janet Choi   from LifeHacker
    1. Teachers find themselves overly “busy” often
    2. Your tips to getting things done/prioritizing/etc.
    3. How to avoid being overly busy
    4. Slack by Tom DeMarco
    5. Getting Things Done by David Allen
  6. Should Sara buy this or wait…

She is going to college to study graphic design and this dude at the school said she needed what is below for next August.  

“So I emailed the college and asked them exactly what the requirements for the Mac I need are, they said this:
MacBook Pro 15″
8Gb Ram
2.4 Ghz processor
Ethernet adaptor

Applications used over 2 years:

Photoshop for sure, I assume finalcut will be used. the courses really just keep saying general things, traditional animation techniques will be explored, learning about HTML and CSS, and javascript. ToonBoom software (Level 1) and Macromedia Flash, Adobe AfterEffects and DVD Studio Pro

Students will also develop a thorough understanding of Adobe AfterEffects as used in the video editing process including the importing and exporting of video clips from Final Cut Pro.  They will also learn the basics of video manipulation and special effects generation.

As always subscribe to us on iTunes or follow us on PodOmatic.

You can always listen right here too.