A year and a half ago, the Brandywine School District–the third largest in Delaware–asked its IT team to design and implement an aggressive technology plan for a network infrastructure spanning 19 schools and encompassing 3,500 computers and 4,000 printers. The environment at that time was scattered and unwieldy. It included more than 400 different computer applications; five different client operating systems and two server operating systems; more than 20 different computer manufacturers, and more than 100 non-standard configurations; 22 separate Windows NT 4.0 and 2000 domains; fragmented computer administrative structure; duplication of effort; and high total cost of ownership (TCO).

I came to Brandywine with a background managing enterprise networks in a corporate setting. My priority was to bring the four guiding principles we applied in the corporate environment to Brandywine–what I call the “four Cs” of TCO management:

  • Compliance: Establishing standards for asset purchasing, software deployment, and enterprise management.

  • Consistency: Standardizing platforms, protocols, desktop applications, hardware, and peripherals.

  • Consolidation: Centralizing management through consolidation and the use of remote administrative tools.

  • Cost-containment: Lowering TCO, including more efficient district-wide storage and printer management.

Each of the “four Cs” involved a host of initiatives. For the purposes of this article, I will show how we addressed one of our core challenges–managing storage and printer resources–in accordance with these principles.

Brandywine’s print and file storage environment was an absolute mess and extremely costly to maintain. Our objective was to find tools to centralize management and lower the TCO of storage and print resources across the 21 buildings my department manages, including the cost of support. Because we were installing an entirely new architecture for print and file management as part of our infrastructure migration, it seemed an appropriate time to deploy a solution that allowed us to design a clean environment, keep it that way, and manage how it would be used rather than reacting to what users inevitably would do.

Besides applying the “four Cs” to all phases of our evaluation process, we evaluated leading software packages according to ease of use, user interface, stability of the products, and functions or feature sets. Our evaluation criteria included quality of customer service and support–an extremely important component in the public-school sector.

Managing storage resources

With 3,500 computers spanning 21 buildings, managing storage resources was quite a challenge. Each building has its own dedicated file and print server, and the sheer volume of files downloaded and stored by students districtwide was enormous. An important part of our overall technology plan was to repurpose and reuse hardware, and finding a way to manage storage resources efficiently would maximize the hardware already in place and help us meet this goal.

The software we chose had to provide us with a consistent, unified methodology to districtwide storage resource management, while enabling us to consolidate what were previously disjointed, school-by-school efforts by centralizing management of all storage resources from a single “console.” In addition, it had to contain costs and lower our TCO by reducing the need for additional hardware purchases and associated maintenance. A software package that automated the policing of storage quotas would have the additional benefit of freeing up staff resources; at the time, our ratio of computers to full-time, on-site support personnel was 875 to 1.

Following a thorough evaluation of available Storage Resource Management (SRM) packages, we decided to purchase Quota Server, from Tampa, Fla.-based Northern Parklife, which enabled us to better manage our storage systems and set appropriate expectations with our user base regarding file storage on servers. Quota Server promoted a consistent approach to our SRM policy districtwide: It allowed us to set storage policies in the form of quotas and protocols for disk objects and users based on group, departmental, or individual needs and objectives.

When a quota is exceeded, an alert prompts the software for a specified response that automatically prevents a user from exceeding his or her storage quota, promoting appropriate use of computer resources by teachers and students. In addition, we could apply file-blocking quotas to remove entire file types from users’ systems (for example, MP3 files), which also helped combat viruses by preventing typical virus-borne files from being saved on our servers–a task that is otherwise a major drain on staff resources.

All of the above is done from a central management console. The suite has been installed in all 19 schools with no implementation issues or problems. It services approximately 1,000 staff and 11,500 students. File storage is now mapping directly to our estimates, and we are managing rather than reacting to file storage issues.

Printer resource management

Our schools’ computer labs are very efficient and tireless consumers of resources. While nominally overseen by an on-site administrator, data silently accumulate on local hard drives and file servers as laser printers quietly churn out reams of paper. The cost of housing and managing data is well documented. What is less well known and understood are the costs associated with printing–from maintenance to replacing toner cartridges.

Managing 4,000 local and networked printers strewn across 19 schools was no simple task. We needed a solution that maximized print resources, minimized costs, reduced paper flow, and allowed the IT staff to generate usage reports to maintain optimum efficiency. In sum, we were looking for a solution that automated print quotas and gave us a centralized means of viewing and maintaining all printers across the enterprise. In other words, a software package that addressed printing as Northern’s Quota Server addressed storage resource management. When we learned that Northern also offered a product to manage print resources, we evaluated the company’s Print Control software.

Northern’s Print Control gave us an easily accessible console where all administrative tasks are centralized. From there, we could limit the number of pages printed, control which file types could be printed (such as refusing the printing of JPEGs or eMail messages), and limit printing by file size, thereby preventing printers from being tied up with large documents for long periods of time. The administrator can grant new printing quotas when the situation warrants.

The software has made teachers and students aware of their responsibilities and obligations concerning their use of print resources. Print Control also enabled us to gather and view information to contain costs–everything from individual use to group usage trends and cost projections. In addition, it has the intelligence to take printers off-line when the toner life has expired and inform the printer operator that maintenance is necessary.

From a consolidation standpoint, we were fortunate to have found two independent solutions to two very thorny issues–storage and print resource management–from the same vendor. Our goal was to find best-of-breed products to address key needs. In most cases, this means purchasing from multiple vendors with areas of specialty. Northern worked with my district to come up with a plan and then supported us with competitive pricing, superior technical support, and two solid products that have more than met our expectations.

Part of a larger effort

The process described above outlines how we evaluated and purchased two products in compliance with the “four Cs” of TCO management and easily can be applied to other purchasing and implementation decisions.

Needless to say, installing storage and print resource management solutions was not done in isolation. We undertook a host of initiatives concurrently, such as centralizing asset purchasing and deployment; establishing a policy to mitigate “pirated” software in the schools; purchasing appropriate licensure based on individual, site, or district usage; moving our network to a single Active Directory infrastructure; moving all clients to a unified Windows 2000 desktop; limiting new software purchases to approved titles across clustered grade and content areas; and treating schools as part of an overall IT enterprise rather than as individual entities.

Our “four Cs” approach to TCO management is already providing significant cost savings throughout the enterprise. Our implementation of print and file storage management alone has enabled us to reduce our overall printer capacity from 4,000 local units to just under 1,500, and printing costs have been lowered on average from approximately 17 cents per page to less than 4 cents per page.

Pat Bush is the director of information systems for the Brandywine School District.

Links:

Brandywine School District
http://www.bsd.k12.de.us

Northern Parklife
http://www.northern.net