Nov 17, 2007
What a great session we had on Friday at the Georgia Education Technology Conference! As I demoed a dozen open source applications that are ready for use in the classroom, you could sense the excitement from attendees as they considered how they might apply them to their education environment. There was quite a clamor for OpenCDs and business cards at the end, so I think its safe to assume that the benefits of open technologies will be coming to fruition in classrooms all across Georgia in the coming year.

For those who were in attendance (and even those who weren't) a copy of the presentation is below. Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions about any of the topics we discussed over three exciting days at GaETC!

GaETC Open Source Apps application/pdf
Nov 14, 2007
This week, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to speak at the Georgia Education Technology Conference (GaETC,) and I have to say, I've been thoroughly impressed. Georgia really knows how to put on a technology conference!
Dr. Curtis Bonk speaking at GaETC
I'm giving a total of three talks on open technologies, the first of which had a great turnout - probably about 80! It has been a thrill to see interest in the education community continue to grow. I think a lot of eyes have been opened to the potential of open technologies in the K-12 space.
Several requested access to the slides and other resources, so I have posted them here:

GaETC Open Technologies in the Ed Enterprise application/pdf
Short List of Open Source Software application/pdf
Aug 10, 2007
Article after article and post after post have compared and contrasted Xen, VMWare, Veridian, and a host of other virtualization technologies, with opinions on performance, management tools, implementations, etc., etc. in abundant supply. Inevitably when it comes to Xen, the story comes full circle with some sort of declaration about "data center readiness." The definition of "ready for the data center" is quite subjective, of course, based largely on the author's personal experience, skills, and their opinion of the technical capabilities of those managing this vague "data center" to which they are referring.
Jul 5, 2007

It was my great pleasure on Jun 26 to be a part of the Network World IT Roadmap event in Santa Clara! For this event, I was interviewed in front of a live audience of about 60 CIOs for the Voice over IP (VoIP,) Convergence, and Collaboration track by Johna Till Johnson, president and chief research officer at Nemertes Research. For those who are interested, some highlights of our conversation are below:

You did a network overhaul that included a VOIP implementation a number of years ago, correct - 2003?
Yes, we were fairly early adopters of the technology. In fact, 802.3af (PoE) had just been finalized a few months prior to our first (pilot) implementation. We had the switches on order, but because of obvious delays in finalizing the switch hardware to meet the spec, we had to borrow some proprietary inline power injectors from 3Com to power our phones until the new switches came in. We probably received the first PoE switches off the line from 3Com.

How large is the implementation?
17 locations that are separated geographically. About 800 handsets now, a variety of hard sets, some softphones, wireless.

Jun 19, 2007

Jay Pfaffman, an instructional technology professor from the University of Tenessee recently wrote an excellent piece which appeared on the LinuxInsider site entitled, It's Time to Consider Open Source Software. As can be expected, this generated a fair amount of debate and comment on the CETPA (California Education Technology Professionals Association) listserv, which revealed a surprisingly prevalent perspective that using open source software somehow equates to "switching" or replacing existing applications only.

I believe it's important to emphasize to all education technology people (or anyone else, for that matter) that they should not view open source simply as a cheap replacement for something else. There is no need or requirement to switch any core application, business process, etc., if one's organization is unprepared to do so or finds it otherwise unnecessary. However, when an opportunity or initiative is in play, then open source should absolutely be in the mix for consideration. The arguments against doing so simply don't hold up to any sort of honest evaluation.

Jun 8, 2007

Latest Xen Posts

For those who are wondering why I haven't posted lately, especially since the latest Xen releases, I'm now on the advisory boards for's SearchEnterpiseLinux and SearchServerVirtualization sections, and have been posting there on Linux and Xen. My two most recent posts are:

Xen 3.1, XenEnterprise and RHEL

Last week, XenSource released Xen 3.1 (formerly 3.0.5) to the community, offering significant new features and capabilities. There are a number of enhancements, but the most significant are More...

Fedora 7 Xen First Look

Having spent a few days with Fedora 7, I have found that, while still a bit buggy, the updated Xen tools show some real promise More...

You can quickly get to all my posts there, and subscribe to a feed of them, if you want, at

I may double post them down the road - we'll see how this new site goes.

May 28, 2007

The One Laptop per Child project has got to be one of the most controversial topics in both education and technology. The little green wonder has been incessantly discussed and debated, at once glorified for its ideals and derided for a host of perceived shortcomings. "It doesn't run Windows" they say, (as if that's a bad thing - but I'll save that for another post,) followed by some errant declaration like, "most software runs on Windows - how can you deny these kids access to it?" On the technical side, there's the "what about technical support?" question and "who will repair them when they break?" A few of my favorites from the education arena have been, "who will teach the kids to use the machines?" and "who's going to train the teachers and provide the curriculum?" Then we step into the silly, like "what if the parents never let their kids use them?" and "what about all the bad things on the internet?" as well as ridiculous ones like "how will we protect these kids from Internet addiction?"

May 1, 2007

There is no question that virtualization has captured the attention of enterprises of all shapes and sizes. And it's easy to understand why - the benefits are simply undeniable. Who wouldn't be interested in lower TCO, better resource utilization, improved reliability, increased flexibility, and rapid deployment - among other gains?

One of the biggest newsmakers in virtualization has been the open source Xen project, and for good reason. The technology is very well designed, is extraordinarily fast and scalable, and is supported by EVERY major OS, server, and silicon vendor - even Microsoft. But as Xensource CTO Simon Crosby says, "the Xen hypervisor is an engine, and not a car. A powerful engine that needs a great gearbox, shocks, tires and the body to go with it."

And that's where the vendors and the open source community come in. There are several solutions that use Xen virtualization as a base, but add functionality to it's core capabilities through management tools and enhancements. These tools and enhancements are not required - Xen is completely functional (arguably more so) on its own - they simply make it easier to manage and use. We've been using the open source version of Xen in production since July 2006 - longer if you include testing and evaluation - so we have intimate knowledge of what the "engine" can do. In recent months, however, we have had occasion to evaluate two models of the "car."


Before you can have any sort of serious conversation about these two systems, you must first understand their underlying technologies, as well as their overall approach. At present, there are two primary approaches to virtualization: paravirtualization and full virtualization. I'll start with full virtualization, both because it came along first and because it's a little easier to understand.

In a fully virtualized system, the virtualized operating system is presented with a completely emulated machine comprised of emulated hardware devices. This "presentation layer" typically runs on top of a complete operating system, such as Windows or Linux. The presentation layer is completely consistent from virtual machine to virtual machine, regardless of the underlying hardware. So, for example, a virtual machine will always see a Realtek network card, standard SCSI controller, etc., etc. This allows drivers to be consistent from virtual machine to virtual machine, which nets you flexibility, consistency, and ease of installation (as well as stability, as was mentioned in a prior post.) Best of all, because all of the hardware is emulated, you can run virtually any operating system on it, unmodified.

There are some drawbacks to this approach, however. First, since the hardware is emulated, there is a good deal of translation taking place, which costs performance. Essentially, there are two layers of drivers translating requests between the software and the hardware. For example, lets say a software package on a virtual machine wants to send a packet out to the network interface. It sends a standard request to its operating system, which in turn forwards that request to the driver for the emulated network card. The driver then converts the request from software language to hardware language, and passes that request down the stack to the presentation layer. The presentation layer takes that hardware request for the emulated hardware, converts it back to a software request, and hands it off to the core OS running on the hardware. The core OS then hands the request to the real hardware driver, which translates it again to hardware language, and finally passes it to the actual hardware. Basically, I/O flows up and down the stack, as shown below (you'll need to view this in HTML to see the table properly):

At the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) conference last month, I did an interview with Managing Editor Dennis Pierce regarding open technologies in K-12 and CoSN's K-12 Open Technologies initiative. The interview is titled, Who's afraid of Open Tech?

Apr 26, 2007

There seems to be a bit of confusion about the benefits of server virtualization, with many tending to focus on cost savings. As a district that has been running a virtual infrastructure for some time, I can honestly say that virtualization is not so much about saving money (although you certainly will) as it is about better resource utilization, more reliability, and greater flexibility.

Better resource utilization

There is no question that most of our servers are doing nothing about 90% of the time. This becomes quite obvious with even a cursory glance at historical utilization data for any given server. It would seem that the obvious solution for this would be to simply run more applications on each one, but the reality of this is that the more apps you install on one OS, the more unreliable it becomes (especially if it's a Microsoft product.) So, what we all do instead is buy a new machine every time we want a new app that we think is "critical," because we want to be sure it has its own sandbox to play in. Don't even tell me you are running anything but Exchange on your Exchange servers!

Apr 12, 2007
There seems to be a renewed interest in interactive whiteboards of late, with the debate largely centering around the notion of "value." Proponents often bring forth such lofty, yet immeasurable "proof" as a teacher or administrator declaration of how wonderful they are, how their classroom lessons are more engaging, effective, interactive, etc., etc. Or, better yet, they bring in a second grader and a board, and let him/her demonstrate it - leveraging what I would call the "cute factor" - in an effort to sell the technology to the school board and/or stakeholders. And in a particularly sad state of affairs, many view technology (and not just this technology) as more of a trophy than a tool - an opportunity to say, "look how advanced we are. We have interactive whiteboards in every classroom." A simple review of any recent ed tech conference will reveal plenty of evidence of this phenomenon - but I digress...
Apr 3, 2007
There has been much discussion of late about the potential of social networking in the K-12 environment. These tools, which include blogging, podcasting, file sharing, and RSS, as well as the "social" structure of friendships, communities, and peers, have been said to have the potential to transform both teaching and learning, and rightly so. They enable creativity through easy to use tools, and encourage collaboration and sharing.

Our district has realized some amazing, quantifiable benefits, from improved science scores as a direct result of teacher review podcasts and group science projects to improvements in reading, writing, and language fluency, not to mention increased confidence and student engagement. We have communities of teachers developing and testing content, sharing ideas, discussing technologies, and communicating with their respective communities. We have students doing research outside of the base curriculum, both in groups and individually, to develop informational podcasts. Second graders are collaborating on creative writing and podcasting projects, while fourth graders post class reviews. In short, the concept of community is alive and well at Saugus.
Mar 29, 2007
K-12 technology leaders from around the globe gathered this year in San Francisco for the CoSN 12th Annual K-12 School Networking Conference, which has been a resounding success. The K-12 Open Technologies Initiative, for which I am a panelist, was well represented this year, with a variety of sessions focusing on open technologies in the K-12 environment.

For those who attended (or wish they could have attended) my session on Thursday entitled Open Source Implementation in K-12: Case Study of Saugus, CA the presentation and supporting documents are listed below.

Thanks to everyone involved for all your hard work - it really paid off this year!

CoSN 07 Case Study Slides application/pdf
Open CD Support Document application/pdf
Open Technologies in Education application/pdf
Short List of Open Source Software application/pdf
Mar 8, 2007
OpenOffice is a powerful suite of productivity applications with functionality that rivals Microsoft's Office suite. We use it extensively at Saugus, as it is part of our default computer image for both PCs and Macs. One of the most common questions we get about it is "where can I get a good manual or tutorials." Luckily, there are quite a few great resources for help with OpenOffice.

One of our favorite printed books is Point and Click from Prentice Hall, which is available from, or your favorite online bookseller. It's a very easy read and does a great job of covering all the primary applications in the suite. It even includes some video tutorials on CD with the book. The videos are also available online (for free) at the NewsForge site. Based on the whiteboards in the background of the videos, I would bet that the writer of this great book is a teacher.
Feb 22, 2007
Discovered a very interesting video on the web today, in a blog called Dangerously Irrelevant by Scott Mcleod. It's an adaption of a video called "Did You Know?" by Karl Fisch, which describes the state of our tiny planet, with a particular focus on the relationship between the United States education system and the rest of the planet. A real eye opener that ought to establish a sense of urgency in any educator.

Jan 26, 2007
The following question was posted on a mailing list recently, and I thought it was quite relevant to anyone looking into Open Source Software (OSS.)

"I have been asked to investigate the use of open source software to replace existing proprietary packages. I would be interested in why you have or have not used open source software and, if you are using it, what you are using and how is it working. I am specifically looking at office suites, e-mail clients, and desktop OS. We currently use Microsoft Office, Exchange, and Windows 2000 and XP for our desktop OS. "

This sort of question is becoming more and more common in K-12 today. While the "whys" and "why nots" are important, approach is at least equally, if not more important than the "whys." My response:
Jan 17, 2007
So far, the responses to the question, "If you had the choice between 5-6 new computers or an interactive whiteboard and projector for your classroom, which would you choose and why?" have been very interesting! I must admit, I have been a little surprised - I expected a bit more diversity. Barring the, "I don't have the space" issue, most of the focus, up to now has been on the teaching side, rather than an argument for learning. I think the big question is, "which would affect learning in a greater way?"

Based on the responses, it would seem that the projector is a slam dunk - everyone thinks that would be a huge benefit. But the argument for the boards is a little less clear cut. I'm curious about the lasting impact. Once the "wow" factor has worn off, do they truly offer enough benefit over a projector alone to outweigh the cost? What if the question choices were 6 computers vs. 3-4 and a projector vs. projector and board?