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Canadian school district expands, simplifies data center with KVM technology: with 24,000 students and 55 different sites, Richmond School District No. 38 needed the flexibility to manage its servers remotely from any location at any time--and ATEN's line of enterprise KVM solutions met the challenge.

Most people would not view Richmond, British Columbia, as a technology haven. However, with software behemoth Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) located only two hours away in Redmond, WA, some of that technology pixie dust has been sprinkled on a progressive Canadian school district that is utilizing KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch solutions to power its data center.

Richmond School District No. 38 prides itself on providing a safe and caring environment for its 24,000 students, who come from various backgrounds and have different ability levels. The district offers a variety of programs--everything from academic and fine arts, to technical and athletics--to give this diverse group of students a well-rounded education, while relying on the latest technology to support student learning. Demonstrating its commitment to technology, the district's Technology and Information Services Department even does its own in-house development, creating custom applications that generate revenue for the district. This department recently completed the centralization of its technology, allowing it to administer 80 percent of the district's devices from its cutting-edge Technology Services Center.

The Richmond School District is composed of 55 different sites, all connected via a wide area network (WAN) powered by the British Columbia Provincial Learning Network (PLNet), a secure, high-speed network that connects all of British Columbia's public schools and colleges in a centrally managed intranet. Our department provides IT support and services for K-12 schools, the continuing education program, and administration systems, including accounting, student records, etc. The Technology Services Center manages a majority of the district's servers, while the board office houses the required IT infrastructure that supports several administration systems. The center currently accommodates 18 Intel-based (www.intel.com) servers running Windows 2000 Server, one Apple (www.apple.com) XServe G5 running Mac OS X, and an Apple Xserve RAID for hosting data storage. These servers are split between two racks that are protected by UPS (uninterruptible power supply) systems. A second site hosts administration systems that consist of one rack with five servers running Windows 2000 Server, one XServe G5 running Mac OS X, and a UPS battery backup system.

We have been primarily focused on implementing this technology in a centrally managed environment, and as more rack-mounted servers were added to the Technology Services Center, we determined the need for a KVM management solution. Without a KVM solution, we were restricted to remote access only through Microsoft's Terminal Services. That option did not help us diagnose a server that was not loading the operating system. If there was a configuration problem preventing the server from loading Windows, we would have been forced to manually pull it out of the rack to fix the problem. We knew that implementing a KVM solution would allow us to diagnose the server from a central console at the rack.

The real driving force behind our decision to select a KVM vendor rested upon our need for remote access to manage servers from any location, even during off hours. Given this need, we opted for a KVM over IP solution. Unfortunately, our first foray into KVM was not very fruitful. We implemented one solution, but quickly found that the product did not perform as advertised. After attempting numerous troubleshooting techniques suggested to us by the vendor, we gave up on the solution and promptly returned it. We then consulted with SoftChoice Corp. (www.softchoice.com), a leading North American supplier of technology products, and were led to ATEN Technology Inc.'s (www.aten.com) Altusen line of enterprise KVM solutions. ATEN had the exact products we needed at a highly affordable price. We immediately put the solution through extensive testing, and had the product installed in under an hour. In one rack, we were able to install ATEN's KVM over Net, a Matrix 16-port KVM switch, a Slideaway KVM with 15-inch LCD, and the cabling for two-thirds the cost of our previous solution, which did not even include a console. We used the remaining one-third of the money to buy the cables and an additional Matrix KVM for our other rack.

We have been using ATEN's KVM products since July 2004 with problem-free administration. We set high standards for this product and ATEN has exceeded our expectations. The biggest benefit to our district has been the ability to save enough money to deploy KVM solutions in both locations--all within the parameters of the stringent budget of a public sector office. Prior to ATEN, it was a real problem to manage these machines; these solutions have provided us with ease of use, outstanding support, and top quality at an affordable price.

We hope we will never need to access our data center from outside the district in the event of an emergency. However, we can rest assured that ATEN's products will be instrumental when confronted with these technical challenges going forward. In the future, we may have to expand our data centers to scale with the growth in our district. If we have to add more racks into these locations, ATEN will be the first company we turn to for a solution.

KVM BASICS

Just what are KVM switches, and what do you need to know before choosing the right solution for your district.

A KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch is a hardware-based solution used to access and monitor multiple computers, servers, and peripherals easily and conveniently from a single KVM console. KVM solutions enable secure local and remote access and management of multiple servers.

Fundamentally, KVMs allow network and data centers to optimize their rack space and IT environment, reducing costs and clutter of keyboards, monitors, and mice. Additional benefits include savings in energy consumption, server racks, cabinets, and floor space. Since KVM switches provide access to a number of computers from a central location, IT professionals are no longer running from one server to the next, thereby streamlining workflow and increasing productivity. When choosing a KVM solution, customers should consider the following six features:

* Multi-platform compatibility

* Reliability

* Flexibility

* Scalability

* Security

* Access Options

Chad Dupuis is a computer systems technologist for Richmond School District No. 38 in British Columbia, Canada.
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Article Details
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Author:Dupuis, Chad
Publication:T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:1013
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