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They're back! Are your labs ready?

Well, whether your Education IT environment is higher-ed or secondary-ed, or even primary education, you have undoubtedly been inundated by now and wishing you had just a couple more weeks of summer to prepare yourself.If you are in higher-education, you have probably been working throughout the summer to be ready for fall.
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Written by Marc Wagner on

Well, whether your Education IT environment is higher-ed or secondary-ed, or even primary education, you have undoubtedly been inundated by now and wishing you had just a couple more weeks of summer to prepare yourself.

If you are in higher-education, you have probably been working throughout the summer to be ready for fall.  Most likely, your summers are anything but restful -- with the majority of  your students gone, you find yourself frantically updating hundreds if not thousands of workstations which, at the very least, needed cleaning and most probably between one third and one fifth were replaced.   

Hopefully, any new Windows machines you've purchased have 1GB of RAM in them and you are already thinking about moving the rest of your WIndows workstations to 512MB or more during the coming school year so that, by Fall of 2007, you'll be ready for Windows Vista.  Of course, your Macintosh machines are already at 1GB (or should be) and are happily running Mac OS X.   Whether you have UNIX or Linux machines depends a great deal upon your instructional needs in computer science and your research needs in the hard sciences. 

Yes, summer seems like the perfect time for life-cycle replacement.  You've spent what was left of last year's budget and taken a big chunk out of this year's budget but the new hardware and software is in place and you are ready for another school year.  Right?  So where does that leave you now? 

If you work in an environment anything like mine, you are fielding the same handful of questions over and over from hundreds of students (preferably via e-mail) and you are dealing with professors who were asked weeks or months ago to provide you with a list of applications (and version numbers for those applications) they need to have in your labs this fall. 

No matter how much lead time you give them, there are always a few who come to you the first week of classes and expect you to drop everything and deploy their favorite application.  If you deployed it for them last year, it may be no problem but if they want an upgrade, or worse yet, some application of which you never heard, you may find yourself scrambling.  Here's where well-thought out policies pay off. 

Policies regarding software deployment should establish expectations for both the requester and Education IT.  These expectations should include request deadlines after which everything is handled on a first-come, first-served basis and guaranteed delivery dates should to be tied to your requester having met your established deadlines.  You should not be working double-time or on the weekends because some professor ignored your published policies. 

And of course, don't forget funding.  Both your faculty and your Education IT team need to understand your funding model and how it was arrived at.  And, your administration needs to be on board and willing to enforce that policy.  

Individual academic departments should be accountable for funding their own discipline-specific applications.  Interdisciplinary applications need to be centrally funded, usually out of the Education IT budget -- but software should be a budget line-item kept separate from other Education IT budget items or you will find yourself with a wealth of first-rate applications, none of which will run on your lame, out-dated, hardware. 

Don't get your institution in trouble by ignoring the licensing agreements and distributing software to more concurrent users (or workstations) than to which you are entitled.  Read those license agreements carefully.  What is legal for an individual to download and use off of the web is not necessarily legal for and institution (even an educational institution) to download and deploy on multiple workstations -- and the employee that violats those licenses is personally responsible for their violation! 

Companies that might look the other way for primary or secondary education will not hesitate to sue your college or university for license infringement.  Yet, more often than not, if asked, they will give colleges and universities very aggressive pricing for volume purchases and site licenses.  (Remember, think like a CIO, not a consumer -- the deals are out there and the personal cost to you of getting caught stealing licenses -- even for your institution -- is high!) 

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