Stories of Success and Failure
LTSP is deployed in many schools, companies and other places. Let's hear the stories of success and failure, so we can be encouraged and empowered!
Albert Einstein Academies in San Diego, Ca.
by Joseph Hartman
To put a bit of a human face on the importance of LTSP I'd like to relate my situation, which I think is not unique[...]. I'm a fifth grade teacher at a charter school in San Diego. Since I know more about computers than anyone else at the school I am also the "tech guy" for both my school and the adjacent middle school. Together we have about 50 teachers, administrators, and support staff. We have about 750 students, about 150 classroom computers, about 35 staff laptops, about 25 projector carts, about 15 laptops for student use, wireless Internet, and a computer lab of about 50 machines. Everything except the teacher laptops run Ubuntu; everything except the student laptops run it via LTSP.
This year we laid off both our Spanish teacher and our Human Resources person, terminated our music program mid year, shortened the school year and eliminated 4 paid "professional development" days for teachers. Thus, Ubuntu and LTSP are extremely important for us. Without it many computers simply would not be available for use as most of them are 10-15 year old P2 or P3 machines too slow to run a contemporary OS and, more importantly, we can not afford to upgrade or replace the machines.
Despite our limitations, we've made impressive progress technologically at school. We've added hardware thanks to generous donations, and the classroom computers and lab both work reliably (which they did not when running Windows 2000). A couple of years ago we implemented Google Apps for Education which allows the students and teachers to work collaboratively in the cloud on presentations, documents and even websites. Our main problem now is the slow performance of Firefox within LTSP. Unfortunately, this characteristic alone undermines all the positive aspects Ubuntu and LTSP in the minds of many students and teachers who openly complain that "Ubuntu is slow". Thus my enthusiasm for implementing local apps, which I hope will speed up Firefox on even our slow and outdated machines.
For administering and troubleshooting the Google Apps implementation and all the equipment I detailed above I receive a stipend of $4,000. Dividing by the $30/hour rate of pay for all non-teaching positions that teachers accept yields a little less than 4 hours per week for me to work on technology related issues. This may seem like an absurd amount of time to dedicate to technological support for schools of our size, but it is no more absurd than the fact that we have nobody to handle any HR related issues, that we use daily computers with stickers on them that say "built for Windows 95", or that someone as underqualified as myself is the sole source of IT support.
As I said above, I don't think my situation is unique. I mention it only to relate the importance of Ubuntu (and specifically LTSP) to us as a school. It is vital to us at this point, a game-changer, an empowering, enabling, and indespensible tool. It's not something I take lightly. It's not something I toy with for fun during the summer when I have the time. It is something that hundreds in my school community depend on daily. It allows learning and discovery and collaboration. It makes a daily impact on the lives of children from 5 year old boys and girls who learn how to use a mouse and read English because it exists to 14 year olds who use it to interview local authors and prepare presentations on climate change.
This is a good thing, and we are all a part of making it happen.[...]
You can see a video of Joseph's 2008 Southern California Linux Expo presentation on implementing Ubuntu LTSP at Albert Einstein Academies by clicking here. The slides for the presentation can be viewed here.
A Research Lab at George Mason University
by Patrick E. McKnight
University research requires computers and computer facilities that all too often must be maintained by the faculty who get no reward or compensation for these services. The idea of publish or perish comes to mind when we talk about faculty and those who choose to maintain a computer lab often fall toward the perish side. I decided before I moved to George Mason that I would not spend my time maintaining computers. Instead, I wanted to maintain one computer - a server that served as both my web and LTSP server - and reuse old throw-away Dell desktop PC's from the university's surplus. The entire network connects internally through a gigabit LAN to ensure adequate bandwidth for all future software. Total costs for our initial lab setup was roughly $2000 for the server, $4000 for our CORAID storage server, and $500 in Gigabit switches. Unless your storage needs are excessive (like ours), I think you could easily do without the CORAID device and have a speedy LTSP network for under $3000.
In terms of software, I had many choices but chose Ubuntu and LTSP for the easy upgrades and greater flexibility. We run the standard office applications (OpenOffice and Firefox) along with our mix of scientific applications (R, Octave, emacs, ESS, LaTeX, etc.). Virtual Bridges (aka Win4Lin) provided us with software to enable Windows software to run in our LTSP environment and, for the most part, that has worked very well. We also run VirtualBox and DOSbox with great success. There are a few hiccups with running Windows software on thin clients - many that are not well documented or addressed online because this is an odd environment. If you wish to run Windows applications, you might want to start with WINE and, perhaps try Codeweavers Cross-Over Office. Server maintenance over the past four years consisted of routine updates and one motherboard replacement due to a power surge; other than that, the server ran full time with almost no time demands on me or my students.
Without the help of the LTSP and Edubuntu community, I might still be struggling with my lab setup. I highly recommend more university faculty consider switching away from stand-alone PC's to thin clients. They decrease noise, heat, and costs to the university while also decreasing administration headaches. When a thin client dies, I simply get a replacement for free from our surplus; most universities have the same computer surplus as we have at GMU. Hopefully this note inspires others to give it a try. By the way, I run a thin client setup at home as well. By reducing the number of stand-alone PC's from 5 to 1, I saved roughly $90/month in electricity costs. Now if I could just get my thin clients to go to sleep and consume less than 5 Watts while asleep, I might save even more!