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Bacone College Stays Cutting Edge With OpenOffice.org - page 2

Sound Strategy

  • March 11, 2004
  • By Rob Reilly

"Lots of pressure financially," said Dr. Robert Duncan, Bacone's president when asked why the school wanted to standardize. Duncan was faced with providing ever-expanding computing resources for his students, faculty, and staff, with a very modest budget to spend.

Many of the school's computers were aging 133 MHz Pentium PCs running Windows 98 and Word 97. Bacone's mission of "stewardship," otherwise known as "getting the maximum benefit from all existing resources and deploying it for the greater good of the community," dictated that they try to recycle as much hardware as possible. The school also had to work with all the students' personal computer hardware. Duncan didn't see any merit in buying new versions of Windows and Microsoft Office, knowing that it wouldn't run very well, if at all, on the old hardware. He knew that any new hardware purchased, would have to work with the old hardware, as well.

The biggest problem Duncan faced was having multiple document formats across multiple platforms. Bacone's IT staff consisted of two MS Certified specialists that were hard pressed to handle user document compatibility problems while keeping networks and servers running. Duncan knew that if documents were standardized across all desktop platforms at Bacone, the IT staff would be able to stop putting out the endless document compatibility fires.

Duncan had an idea that Open Source software might provide a practical, economic computing value across multiple platforms, much like Bacone's charter of providing practical, economic educational value across the very diverse student body, including a substantial number of Native Americans. But, he hadn't converted his own machine over to Open Source... yet.

The first order of business was to take stock of the current Information Technology infrastructure and look at the areas that would need attention. Duncan, rounded up his staff IT specialists, some students, and his son Rob, who was an undergrad in the school of Business Management. Together the team evaluated the current systems.

These included:

  • 46 computer lab machines
  • 30 faculty computers
  • 15 Athletic department computers
  • 15 Library computers

Students and faculty also had personal machines running various forms of Microsoft and other operating systems.

The team looked at the processes that might be affected by tweaking the IT infrastructure, too. Questions came up about how new software would be deployed, how users could be trained and how the school might handle the idea of "change" itself. While many people on campus thought upgrading the systems was a good idea, many others were skeptical, and everyone was a little reluctant to go forward.

Duncan and company decided that buying newer hardware for the computer lab and library made the most practical sense. They wanted to create a public cyber cafe for students, so they decided that the lab machines could be recycled for that purpose, since researching on the web didn't really take ultra performance machines. To add flexibility in the library, they decided that 15 new laptops would fill the bill. Operating systems and office suites were still, as yet, undetermined.

The school had also purchased and refurbished an old Holiday Inn motel close to the campus for use as a student dorm. The dorm needed to be connected for the planned 40 to 60 students, so it was determined that wireless would be the most practical route. Nine wireless access points and some cabling would be added to the new hardware list.

With the general hardware configuration and expansion proposed, attention turned to the problem of what software to run on the newly revamped systems. If the project was to be a success, a decision had to be made.

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