IT Trends | Feature

Connecting Across the Last Frontier

An Alaskan school district the size of Great Britain turns to technology to help develop a more streamlined maintenance process for its Macs.

Managing remote machines is a challenge for any K-12 IT department. Add thousands of miles, sub-zero degree weather and remote villages that aren't reachable by car to the equation, and the daily obstacles facing Bering Strait School District's IT team begin to come into focus.

Based in Unalakleet, AK, BSSD encompasses 15 campuses spread across 80,000 miles in the western portion of The Last Frontier. "Our district is the size of Great Britain," said Gary Jacobson, educational technology facilitator for the district. BSSD uses 1,600 Macs across its campuses — which range in size from 40 to 250 students.

One of the district's schools is accessible only by helicopter, said Jacobson, while others lack serviceable roads. Keeping the district's technology assets up and running has historically been a constant challenge, he said. Up until recently the district relied on tech liaisons (teachers who were appointed to the role and who often work after hours maintaining the computers) at individual sites to handle machine management.

After testing out several remote management options available on the market, BSSD began using DeployStudio in 2012. The program handles imaging and deployment of Macintosh computers and PCs, software updates, reconfigurations, automated support and real-time deployment monitoring.

Jacobson says all new Mac computers are brought first to the district office to be imaged in preparation for management. The process allows the IT team to create a "carbon copy clone" for use by remote locations. When new software versions or patches need to be administered to the district's 1,600 Macs, for example, the solution handles the process automatically.

"We're predominantly an Apple district, and they have an admirable habit of updating the Mac OS frequently," said Jacobson. "Anyone based far from our central administrative district office had a hard time keeping up. Now we can either push the updates out from here or — in some cases — deliver hard copies to our more remote locations."

Jacobson said an even more streamlined remote management system is on his wish list for 2013. File size, for example, can hamper delivery of vital updates and patches to schools that lack adequate bandwidth. "Everyone wants more bandwidth and everyone wants the latest and greatest technology," said Jacobson. "As an IT team, our continuing challenge is keeping up with the technology we need to put those goals within reach."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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