Wandering Knowledge

random thoughts, ideas, and knowledge shared

Long time, no type – lots happened

Posted by jfluhmann on June 17, 2012

I’ve realized that my last post was close to this time last year.  Quite a bit has happened since then.  This post is basically just a marker.  I’ve include the text from my previous ‘About’ page, below.

My name is Jeremy Fluhmann and I live in a small rural community in West Texas.  By day, I’m a Network/System Administrator for a school district in a different rural community.  By night, I’m your typical husband and father of two little ones.

Some of my bigger “external” commitments are being the organizer of the Texas Open Source Symposium, Conferences Chair for The Perl Foundation, President-elect of the Texas Computer Education Association‘s Strategic Open Source Special Intereste Group (TCEA – SOSSIG), and your general open source advocate.  I do my best to promote open source in West Texas and hope to encourage more people to consider open source packages when they look for a software solution.

I’m your typical Ubuntu user and Perl developer.  I’ve organized a few Perl Monger groups and participate as a member in the Texas Ubuntu team.

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Summer Projects

Posted by jfluhmann on June 2, 2011

Schools Out for Summer!

Another school year down and the summer is upon us.  I’m taking vacation this week, but I have plenty to do when I get back to work.  For those that may not have seen on Twitter/Facebook, I’m once again a one-man IT shop and it’s looking like we may not hire in a 2nd person until closer to the beginning of school.  However, events of this week may have altered the timeline for help, as well as the projects that actually get done this summer.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

One of the major projects that we’re still rolling out is our virtual desktop deployment.  We started working on this several months ago and plan on moving the entire district over to virtual desktops.  It’s been a slower process than expected, but that’s due to being a one-man IT department off and on during the school year.  Projects kept getting sidetracked due to support issues throughout the district.  So what’s on the VDI agenda for this summer, you ask?  Well, we’re migrating the entire district over to a single domain, which I’ll talk more about in a little bit.  The single domain has been setup and I’m probably going to completely tear down our current VDI setup and re-deploy it.  Not as big of a task as it sounds, due to the ease and simplicity of setting up the Virtual Bridges VERDE solution.  Just to keep things clean, I’ll probably re-format and re-install our VDI server cluster, which will also help me test some Puppet and Cobbler integration.  I’m actually really excited about that part.  If it works out well, it should transfer nicely to other organizations looking to do the same thing.  I have a few more areas where I’m going to get DRBL setup for running “no maintenance needed” desktops.  We’re finishing up our MS licensing and making the move to Windows 7.  So, I’ll end up with one image for HS BCIS classes, HS and JH general lab image, HS and JH faculty image, Elementary student image, and Elementary faculty image.  All Windows 7.  And then I’ll be setting up an Ubuntu Linux desktop image for the high school.  We have several teachers with laptops, which I’ll be installing VERDE’s LEAF image (disconnected VDI).  It honestly makes me smile as I think through it all.  Looking forward to it!

Domain Consolidation

So, I mentioned that we’re moving to a single domain for the entire district.  This will be nice and allow for our district-wide VDI deployment to be all tied in together.  It will also bring consistency to our wireless authentication, content filtering, and anti-virus, to name a few services.  The new domain is setup and rather than trying to migrate everyone, I’ve opted to do a fresh start.  New user names, passwords, groups, OUs, and group policies.  With the VDI deployment, I’m going to be re-formating several machines to either run in a DRBL setup or have Ubuntu installed on them.  With that, I’m not having to un-join machines from one domain and join them to the new one.  Doing it that way reduces the work I have to put into it this summer (remember, one man shop here ;-).

Wireless Expansion

We also have our wireless deployment that needs attention.  This is also one of the projects that kept getting bumped during the school year.  We use Meraki and their cloud-based controller solution.  Man, are they AWESOME!  Not just for their wireless solution, but also for everything else they do.  Very responsive, very innovative, and very customer friendly.  We purchased a number of wireless access points last summer, so I’m still getting those deployed.  Some areas I’ll have to run new cable (well, with their mesh architecture, I guess don’t HAVE TO pull new cable, but that’s the plan) whereas others I’ve already pulled the cable last summer.  With all of the new netbook carts that we’ve been getting, plus all of the wireless devices being brought in, students have been using wireless much more heavily.

Dumping Old Equipment

Over time, we have acquired quite a bit of new technology equipment – desktops, laptops, network switches, etc.  And with acquiring new technology equipment, we’ve also been stockpiling our old equipment that gets replaced.  We have a technology room that has been dubbed, “The Technology Cave”.  I’ve also heard it referred to as ‘the dungeon’, ‘the graveyard’, and a few more that I’m unable to recall at the moment.  I’d say it’s pretty crowded in there and most of it needs to go.  A few weeks ago, I started re-organizing in preparation for summer cleaning.  We located a technology recycling organization that will come out and haul off our old equipment.  I basically just have to schedule it and make sure that I’m there when they show up.

Migration to Google Apps for Education

With the need to have shared calendars (mainly) and a few other services, we’re making the change to Google Apps.  I’ve been gradually moving people over and have our administration office and a few teachers moved over to it.  I have about 100 or so accounts left to migrate.  I think the only tedious part of this, on my side of things, will be importing each person’s existing e-mails.  Not a difficult task, just time consuming.

Summer Time Crunch

With all of those projects and still maintaining summer staff services, I’ll stay busy every day that I’m working.  My time span to get everything completed ranges from three to eleven weeks.  I’ve been working on the schedule and if I end up running out of time to get everything completed, I’ll at least have a plan in place for getting the rest of it done.  Summer is also a great time for me to try and document everything.  I’ve considered doing a full inventory of major equipment, which would entail a little over 1000 devices that I manage (desktops, laptops, phones, printers, projectors, network switches, servers, interactive whiteboards/tablets, etc).  Might be overload, given my time frame.

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We wear many hats

Posted by jfluhmann on November 28, 2010

Earlier today, I was reading an article by John Dix in the most recent issue of Network World.  It was talking about how virtualization and basically ‘unified’ infrastructure is requiring people to re-think their IT organizational structure.  Many of the current structures operate in silos and optimize their particular area for their particular area only, not necessarily what is best for the entire system.  According to the article, Cisco approached this issue within their department and re-structed it into new areas consisting of architecture, design, implementation, and operations teams.  Across these teams, they created ‘virtual’ service teams, such as networking, where members from the various other groups make up a networking team responsible for making sure networking is optimized for the overall system.  Sounds great and it makes me think of how Angelo State University has been moving technology staff around to optimize operations.

As I see various posts come across the TEC-SIG list and read various articles about technology department structures, I cannot help but wonder how some of us smaller organizations get by.  Currently, I’m the only technology department employee at my place of work, a rural pK-12 school district.  I’m not an anomaly, at least not in West Texas.  Prior to the beginning of the school year in 2008, my school district was a one-person show.  The only assistance the technology director had was that of an elementary and a secondary teacher’s aide.  The basic role of the aide was to oversee computer lab operations on their repective campuses.  As time went on, that somewhat evolved into technology support for their respective campus(es).  Other than that, the technology director was responsible for EVERYTHING.  He was successful in the time leading up to the start of the 2008-2009 school year to be able to hire a second ‘district-level’ technology person.  After some interviewing, I was offered the job as the Network Manager.  My prior background had been that of infrastructure cabling, helpdesk for an ISP, network analyst, desktop support, server support on a small scale, programmer, and server operations.  One of the great things about my background and working in the role that I soon acquired was that I was able to fill ‘MANY’ roles within a technology department.  While not having deep knowledge in a ‘single’ particular area, I do have quite a bit of knowledge in many, many areas, wheather it was part of my job, or not.

In a school district of our size, there is typically one or two people, maybe even three, that make up the technology department.  Several of the districts in our area extend their department by purchasing ‘credits’ from support vendors to handle some of the daily operations, long-term projects, etc.  I randomly see some of the job postings looking for managers and operations personnel of servers, networking, VoIP, storage, backup, virtualization, etc.  Where we’re at right now, especially in the school district for which I work, is that I fill every single one of those roles.  Our second technology person, scheduled to start on January 3rd, will be responsible for all of the desktop operations, which includes end-user support, anti-virus, printing, desktop publishing, application support, content filtering, and desktop virtualization.  I will still maintain all of the infrastructure operations, which includes storage, networking, server, and virtualization.  I also maintain various reports and other paperwork, including e-rate and everything that goes with it.

Our current infrastructure includes 624 desktop/laptop units, 14 physical servers, 10 virtual servers, 2 storage arrays, 28 physical switches, and 30 enterprise wireless access points.  He have roughly 11TB of storage connected to our servers, with plans to expand that for video storage, shared hosting, and our VDI deployment.  We’ll continue to virtualize more of our physical servers as we have time and it makes sense.  We’ve started deploying virtual desktops that will eventually cover all of our students and take the place of the physical units.  The aging desktops will be turned into diskless workstations until they are replaced with thin clients.  We’ve deployed a VoIP system, running sipXecs that not only replaced our phone system, but also replaced our broken PA/Intercom and bell systems.  Replacing the PA/Intercom system means that we gave EVERY teacher an IP phone (total phone install consists of ~100 units).  Our upcoming project list contains digital signage, video streaming of events in our new Special Events Center, security cameras, and distance learning for homebound, extended away, homeschooled, etc students via BigBlueButton.

Thinking of smaller technology departments, it would seem that we don’t suffer from the separate silos.  With fewer people, each person is required to take on more responsibility.  While our infrastructure may not be near the size of these larger organizations, we still need to operate efficiently and optimize each area for the overall system.  Us smaller departments may suffer from a lack of in-depth knowledge about particular areas, and that’s probably our biggest area for improvement.  At my place of work, we’re running private cloud services consisting of storage, compute, and networking, with one of the goals being the ability to provide some of our resources to other school districts.  With several districts in our area having only one technology person, the hope is to provide them with resources that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to use.  This also reduces the amount of infrastructure that person has to maintain.

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‘Virtual’-ly Everything about our K12 infrastructure

Posted by jfluhmann on November 26, 2010

Hopefully everyone’s Thanksgiving went well and many of us were able to get a much needed break. I just want to give a brief update on some of the things going on with our school district’s technology infrastructure and mention a few things that are in the works. We have several projects going on at once, with several of them tying in together.

As many people know, we are in the middle of migrating our desktops over to a virtual desktop infrastructure. I would recommend that EVERY school district take a look at VDI, and in particular, at the VDI solution that Austin-based Virtual Bridges provides. We’re currently at VERDE 4.3 and will soon be transitioning to their 5.0 release.

One area that we’ve struggled with a little bit is storage. We’re running our virtual desktop infrastructure within a cluster of HP ProLiant DL 385 G7s. The cluster with VERDE works by simply having the servers mount an NFS share. Simple enough, but I also have several other systems that I would also like to connect to a single, shared file system. My main concern has been scalability. As our storage needs outgrow our resources, I want a simple way to easily expand storage capacity without hassle. Enter Gluster. Gluster is an open-source distributed, clustered, single namespace storage system. With the recent 3.1 release and the new Elastic Volume Manager, storage can be easily expanded and reduced as needed without service interruption. Gluster is truly elastic cloud storage. I also understand that it can plug in to some public cloud storage offerings for expanded storage.

With our virtual desktop infrastructure cluster being KVM-based and running on some extremly beefy servers (currently HPs with dual 12-core AMDs and 128G of memory each), we’re planning on transitioning away from our VMware ESX setup to a KVM-based system. So, part of where we’re at right now is that Gluster is up and running, but the initial server that I want it running on is currently hosting VMware ESX VMs. I need to transition my current VMs from ESX to KVM, and then migrate storage to the newly freed up server. As our storage needs grow, I’ll be able to easily increase our capacity by either adding more servers to our Gluster cluster, or adding more/larger hard drives to our storage array.

Something that we’re very interested in and are currently reviewing ways in which it fits in with our network is the open source networking solution, Vyatta. With Vyatta, we’re able to install it directly onto an x86-based system, reducing the high cost of proprietary alternatives. we’re also able to virtualize it and incorporate it into our private cloud infrastructure. I’ve been a fan of Vyatta’s for a while, but have yet to have a chance to sit down and really start using it. Once I can get some of these other projects out of the way, I plan on sitting down with Vyatta and working through some use cases.

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Presentation submitted for TCEA 2011

Posted by jfluhmann on May 31, 2010

I finally made the jump and submitted a presentation proposal for the 2011 Texas Computer Education Association Convention.  For those not familiar with TCEA and the TCEA Convention (from the TCEA website), “TCEA is the largest state organization in the nation devoted to the use of technology in education. Founded in 1980, the association has been active throughout Texas supporting educational technology. TCEA 2010 had an attendance of more than 12,000 people. It attracted more than 9,700 registered attendees with 350 exhibitors and more than 500 educational sessions”. The theme for TCEA 2011 is “No Limits – Technology Beyond Imagination”.  I would like to think that some of the topics in my proposed session (particularly cloud and virtualization) fall under that theme.

The information I submitted is included below.  If it gets accepted, this will be my first presentation at a conference (not counting the welcome or closing that I’ve done for conferences that I’ve organized).  I’ve never been one that jumps at the opportunity to speak in front of an audience, so I’ll be pretty nervous as it gets closer to the convention (pending my presentation is accepted).  Once accepted, I’ll have roughly six months to get everything organized and prepared.

Reducing Infrastructure Costs with Open Source-based Solutions
Short Description
Learn some of the ways in which several school districts are reducing their infrastructure costs with the help of open source based solutions. This includes cloud, virtualization, phones, networking, etc.
Detailed Description
This session will cover several scenarios in which school districts are able to reduce their infrastructure costs through the use of both commercially and community backed open source solutions.  Winters ISD employs several of these and is planning on saving more than $750,000 just with its virtual desktop infrastructure project.  This session will also cover some open source cloud computing solutions and how K-12 and Higher Ed institutions can utilize them within their current and future infrastructures.

This will be the Texas Computer Education Association’s 31st Annual Convention & Exposition, which will take place Feb. 7-11, 2011, at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas.

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Why I chose Virtual Bridges

Posted by jfluhmann on May 26, 2010

Jeremy YAPC::NA 2008

A new set of posting are being featured on the Virtual Bridges Blog, where some of their key people explain why they joined Virtual Bridges.  It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the company, as well as their product, and these postings inspired me to play off of that and give a posting about why I chose Virtual Bridges VERDE for our Virtual Desktop Infrastructure solution.

Let me start with a little background on how I came across VERDE.  I like to dabble in cloud computing and one open source cloud computing product in particular that I’ve worked with has been openNebula.  When combined with Haizea, I can schedule startup and shutdowns of KVM-based virtual machines throughout the day.  My thought was to use remote desktop sessions to connect some of our older PCs to these running VMs.  Simple enough, I just needed to find an easy way to direct each PC to a VM.  So, I started searching for an open source connection broker of sorts.  During my searches, I found a virtual desktop infrastructure product named VERDE.  I started reading through the documentation and getting a feel for how the product worked.  As I learned that it used KVM and would run on a base install of Ubuntu, I started to see where this was going.  Not only will it easily fit into my current infrastructure, but it runs on my favorite operating system, as well!

As we all know, it’s rare that we come across a product that presents itself as a real game changer.  I came across VERDE in September of 2009.  I finally had time to setup a demo install in November and wrote a blog post about my experience (this was VERDE 2.0, I believe).  Since that time, Virtual Bridges has landed venture capital funding and hired an outstanding list of talent (and still hiring).  This thing is taking off like a rocket and continues to impress me.  When you sit down, walk through the install, and see it in action, it’s one of the greatest “Ah ha” moments you’re likely to have with a software product.  Moving from Higher Ed into K-12, I’ve started realizing just how important something like this is for a school district.  We’re opening up new ways to address technology and learning needs for students.  We can now allow students to connect to a lab image from home (or anywhere) and keep them from having to spend money on software that the school has them use (some of which can be very cost-prohibitive).  And it’s all nicely managed from a web-based console that I can access from anywhere, at any time.

I get excited talking to people about it and enjoy sharing our experience.  Not only is VERDE an amazing product, but it’s backed by a group of amazing people.

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