The EduPlug - Go for it, Tonido!

I've been working with Codelathe's TonidoPlug for a couple weeks now and remain completely impressed. I hit a few technical difficulties (hardware issues on my end with a crappy drive) installing their straight LAMP image, but am setting that up as we speak (nothing a trip to Walmart couldn't cure).

I've been working with Codelathe's TonidoPlug for a couple weeks now and remain completely impressed. I hit a few technical difficulties (hardware issues on my end with a crappy drive) installing their straight LAMP image, but am setting that up as we speak (nothing a trip to Walmart couldn't cure). However, about a week ago, the COO of Codelathe challenged me spec out what I coined an "EduPlug" based on their LAMP implementation.

What if, I asked, you were to

add Moodle and Joomla with sample content and preconfigured databases [to the LAMP image]. Bundle it with a big USB hard drive and set the web/class content to point to the external disk, and you have yourself a working educational web server in a matter of minutes.

Sounds cool, eh? A few Twitter conversations later and some pondering on how we tend to use web servers in Ed Tech and I've come up with a set of requirements and applications that would make the EduPlug a no-brainer purchase for schools. The requirements outlined below would allow this little box to work as a web server, learning management system, library management system, or small-scale student information system out of the box. Here's what I have in mind:

A 1TB hard drive The TonidoPlug embedded OS relies on an external USB hard drive to house more data than the half gig it carries on board. External hard drives are incredibly cheap and terabyte drives can be had for under $100. How many videos, pictures, documents or audio files do you need to share with students, parents, and staff? A terabyte should take care of it. Need a backup? No problem. Users can add a USB hub and a second hard drive for regular backups.

File locations Linux makes it easy to separate user files, web sites, and shares from program files. Thus, the onboard storage in the EduPlug (this refers to the stock TonidoPlug hardware with the software stack I'm suggesting) would be for program files only. All other data would be pre-configured to reside on the included hard drive. Hard drive failure? No problem - just replace it with the clone you create during daily backups. EduPlug failure? No problem there either; just replace it with any other TonidoPlug running the Edu stack (a simple flash procedure).

The LAMP stack This should go without saying, but I'm including it for completeness. I'm also including it to note that, for ease, greatest compatibility, and image compactness, my specs only include MySQL. There are plenty of other outstanding open source databases, most notably PostgreSQL, but for our purposes here, I suggest we stick with MySQL. This also means that the rest of the loaded software needs to interact with MySQL if it's database-aware.

For anyone out there just a little too hardcore for MySQL, the underlying system is Ubuntu; you can install it yourself.

Joomla! 1.5 As discussed above, the /joomla folder will necessarily reside on the external hard drive; the default database will also reside there and the EduPlug will be pre-configured to accept incoming connections on port 80. The Apache web server will point port 80 requests to the /joomla installation. All sample content will be included with the installation such that users will have a fully functioning Joomla! site out of the box.

Should I have picked Drupal or WordPress here? I know some readers will disagree with me, but the larger, more active community around Joomla!, including many sources of free education-centric templates, made the choice of CMS fairly straightforward. Why a CMS in the first place? Because users need to be able to post content on the EduPlug with minimal technical understanding of HTML and scripting languages and admins need to get a website running with minimal hassle.

koha 3.0 Koha is not the only open source library management system out there, but it is quite mature and compatible with the LAMP stack as installed. Inclusion of an LMS means that the EduPlug can be implemented at local libraries as well who could look to an inexpensive replacement of Follett and other proprietary software. Out of the box, koha should be accessible from a koha subdirectory of the root website (e.g., http:///koha).

Moodle Again, Moodle isn't the only OSS fish in the LMS sea. However, it is familiar to many educators, very mature, and scales well. Moodle on the EduPlug wouldn't be appropriate for a major rollout. A higher-end server (or a small cluster) would be important to handle heavy loads. However, this would be an ideal test environment where a few champion users could explore Moodle with their classes without a significant investment in hardware. It would also provide an ideal test environment for administrators. Out of the box, Moodle should be accessible from a moodle subdirectory of the root website (e.g., http:///moodle).

Centre SIS Like Moodle, Centre SIS would require beefier hardware to run effectively as a student information system. You wouldn't want to run the scheduling engine on a Sheeva embedded web server. However, it is often necessary to maintain working historical copies of an SIS (e.g., a snapshot of the SIS from the previous academic year) or convenient to have a working copy of the current SIS for testing and experimentation (what happens if we move this class into D period?).

Inclusion of Centre also allows small schools who are not currently using a computer-based SIS to explore one of the most mature, free, open source options. Out of the box, CentreSIS should be accessible from a centresis subdirectory of the root website (e.g., http:///centresis).

So go for it, Tonido - I say build it and they will come. A turnkey solution for the education vertical in a brilliantly green, inexpensive package sounds like good stuff to me. Code me up an image for the eduplug and i'll put it thru it's paces.


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