Education Case Study: RedHat utilized to providing diverse OS experience to students
Email: it hyperion.strathcona.vic.edu.au
How things got started...
We were concerned that we were only giving our students, access to and, experience in one platform. As about 50% of our students enrolled in university courses that had an IT component in them we were keen to expand their horizons. In addition, of course, there was the financial aspect. With a yearly license fee for over 300 computers adding up it was becoming a very costly affair.
Why Free Software?
Although our workstations were Win98 our server backends were all unix machines (Solaris 8 on Sun Servers), so we had considerable experience in unix, as well we had several Linux servers doing a range of Internet related work. We chose RedHat 7.2 with KDE because it appeared to be the most advanced desktop version of Linux with and KDE offered a fair degree of similarity with Win98 in "look and feel" and operation. We wanted a different desktop operating system, however students needed to be able to use it with little difficulty. KDE has proven to be reliable and easy to use. In addition we have chosen Star Office 6 as our desktop office suite, and although we currently use the beta release it has been quite stable and reliable and we look forward to using the full release soon.
Our installation uses 60 workstations with AMD 1700 XP processors, ASUS A7V266-E motherboards, Nvidia GForce2 MX/400 video cards and 512Mb ram and another 30 Intel Pentium 3 workstations with 256Mb ram. Each workstation has RedHat and the entire software suite installed (ie, Star Office, GIMP, Mozilla, Ayam...) however username and password authentication is done via the PAM Module and access a LDAP database on our Sun Enterprise 3500. We use iPlanet Directory server 5.0 for this purpose. When a user logs on their home directory on the Enterprise server is automatically mapped to the home directory on the workstation. No user data is ever saved on any Linux workstation. This means that a user can use any machine on the network and their individual settings and work is immediately available to them.
The installation has been remarkably smooth with the exception of some "freezing" problems with the new AMD based machines. We have been working to iron these out and although they are performing much better, we still get a few freeze ups a week. This is surprising because I have been using RedHat on an earlier AMD based machine for about 8 months and it has never frozen. It appears to be a problem with either the video card or our particular model of processor. The iPlanet LDAP server has been excellent. It has the Posix stuff built in and has worked faultlessly. The workstations are very fast and the students enjoy the speed, especially when using grpahics programs. Our network is 100baset switched to all workstations so network response time is not an issue. Where we need Microsoft based applications, we deliver these from a Citrix Metaframe server.
We have about 80 remaining Win98 based workstations 40 of which will be changed over to Linux next year, leaving only our junior school on Windows. They have a lot of specific curriculum software that needs to be used, and students still need experience with Microsoft products.