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The Problems with Loading Labs Software

Every machine has software loaded on it. Taken all together, that software is called the image. Faculty want each machine in the classroom to be exactly the same in terms of what software is loaded and how that software is loaded. They want the directory structure set up in a certain place, etc. And that design has to be made to accommodate all the different faculty who teach using those machines.

We have about 300 possible software titles that are installed on about 180 machines. The problem is that too many errors can occur if one attempts to load each piece of software to each individual machine. Also, the staff hours needed to prepare that many individual machines is unacceptably high. It would take about 32 hours per machine.

The Image Solution

So the image is created on a test machine. That means all the software is loaded for all the classes on one machine. That creates the master image. We try to have only one master image. It contains all the software titles that we are licensed to use. Having one image is the best method for control and maintenance. When a bug is found, we only have to fix it on the master image. If a new title is funded and purchased , we load it to the master image. We use the master image in every classroom with minor adjustments (more on that later) .

The Image Blessing

Then the faculty members check the software on the test machine to be sure their software performs the way they expect it to. The faculty or instructor is the only one who knows that piece of software and how it is supposed to operate. They must be the one to “bless” the loading. When everything is loaded and everything is blessed, the OIT technicians can then “image” the machines in the classrooms

The Imaging of Classroom Machines 

OIT uses a software tool that captures the software master image that was created on the test machine. Then, using our software tool, we copy that image to every machine in the classrooms. This takes a while but nowhere near the 32 hours per machine for individual software loading! We can do about twenty machines in two to three hours depending on network traffic. After we image all the machines we must make some individual settings to each machine in that classroom. We have to name each machine for the network, assign the proper printers for that room, remove software titles that are not licensed for that particular room, etc. That takes about 10-15 minutes per machine. When it is all done every machine has exactly the same load.

Centurion Guard

How do you keep the software from being messed up by users? We use a software device called DriveShield. It automatically refreshes the software image to its original state when the machine is rebooted or restarted. Users can change anything they want during their session. They can even load software if they want. When the machine is restarted, it goes back to its original state. That way the teachers know it will be the same way every time their students start a class. and it makes classroom machines almost impervious to viruses! Any virus that might be loaded is wiped away by DriveShield.

A Word on Software Licensing

We don’t own everything. In fact, we own limited numbers of many things. That means that a software title just can’t be loaded in every classroom. There are some titles that can be everyplace – like the Microsoft Office suite and Adobe Acrobat Reader. In some cases, we only have enough licenses for one room (many Math titles and some Language titles are like that). So we have grouped software titles by discipline folders when we built the master image. That way it is easy to remove software licenses from a classroom where we can’t legally run it.

You should also be aware that many software titles are not purchased outright. We actually “rent” them. SPSS, SYSTAT and many others require a hefty licensing fee every year just to use the software. It looks like Microsoft will be going in that very direction soon; where users don’t actually buy anything, they pay for it per use. Stick around. It’s going to get really ugly.

The Image Build Schedule is located on the web at Image Calendar