In the independent city of Jena in Thuringia there are 27 schools run by the municipality. Our IT department at the Jena Media Center supports around 12,500 students and 1,700 teachers in elementary schools, community schools, high schools, three vocational schools and a special-needs center. Ten employees now work at the media center, including three school supervisors and individual supervisors responsible for infrastructure, Linux administration, mobile device management (MDM) and software distribution. They take care of the information technology supply and equipment of all schools run by the municipality.
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Digital Pact as Starting Point
Although the demand for such support has increased noticeably in recent years, there was not enough money to fund it for a long time. That is why the Digital Pact spilled in the country at exactly the right time for us. This was the long-awaited starting signal for our project, a reorganization of school IT in Jena, and the cooperation with Univention.
In this blog post, I would like to describe in more detail how we proceeded in Jena, what requirements we had, what the corresponding solution looked like, and why we ultimately chose the open source solution UCS@school. In doing so, I would also like to address minor and major challenges that occurred during the course of the project and outline how we met them.
Initial Situation and Concept Development
Before deciding to use UCS@school from Univention, we were struggling with a decentralized IT infrastructure with separate school servers and a uniform IP network structure at all locations without central software management. Individual configurations with additional accounts for each user were necessary for central offerings such as groupware, Radius and the Moodle learning management system (LMS). Temporarily, the two of us were responsible for thousands of devices at the 27 school locations – a truly colossal task that could only be managed through uniform systems with a school server at each location as well as high workloads.
Despite the good equipment in Jena, the time and staff expenditure for separate server administration were too high in the long run. We had been aware for some time that we needed to switch to a different system if we wanted to have a modern school IT system. Until then, this change always failed due to the lack of investment funds, which were then available to us thanks to the Digital Pact. Compared to other subsidies, this not only included investments for the expansion of the IT infrastructure and the WLAN but also state and federal funds to purchase technical support.
To apply for funds from the Digital Pact (for the individual schools and on a global scale for Jena), it was necessary to develop a meaningful concept, which we presented to the city council. Part of the concept, besides refurbishing and re-equipping the school sites, was the establishment of a larger support team that would reliably take over the maintenance of IT at all sites. In addition to the basic concept, we developed sound planning including required capacities and concrete implementation steps, which, together with the financial resources, now enables us to start afresh in Jena’s schools.
Requirements for the New IT Solution
In the run-up to the project, we asked ourselves what the new network structure should look like, which IP addresses we need for which systems, how students and teachers use the WLAN (via vouchers or authentication by radius) and how the user names should be structured. This is something one should consider before launching a project, and it would be best to discuss it with the teachers as well. We decided to use IP addresses structured in sections of 10 and 15, a “surname.first name” structure for the user names, and to identify teachers responsible for media at all school sites. The latter work together with us to complete the respective application for the Digital Pact, are available as contact persons for simple IT questions and, ideally, also provide first-level support on site.
It was then essential to decide in favor of continuing to operate school servers and against setting up a central server. The key factor here was to enable a certain level of fail-safety to withstand the traffic of the approximately 2,000 additional mobile end devices (iPads, notebooks) with a 1-gigabit connection to the Internet.
From these preliminary considerations and other specifications, several requirements for the new IT solution emerged:
- Open source software (OSS) instead of a proprietary offering
- Uniformity of the system at all locations
- Low training requirements for teachers and students
- ID management and LDAP functionality for all devices
- Stability and possible extensions
- Covering needs for school server functionality, cloud, groupware, Radius, Office 365, Apple ID, etc.