Skolelinux, an enterprise solution
- By Knut Yrvin, Oslo - February 8, 2010
Skolelinux is designed to be extremely stable for millions of students. In many countries, the educational sector maintains more computers than any other part of the government. When supporting tens of thousands or millions of users, bleeding edge software is not an option. The software installed with Skolelinux is carefully hand-picked and configured with stability in mind.
Skolelinux is built on Debian, which has 2-3 year release cycles and an extended period for security updates. Debian is the most comprehensive and rigorously tested GNU/Linux distribution on the market. It is the most popular server system in German businesses and the basis for Maemo, Nokia's mobile PC platform which is used on N900. Being built with Debian, Skolelinux promotes stability and low maintenance costs.
The newest Skolelinux has lower hardware requirements than proprietary alternatives. Instead of upgrading to newer hardware when a proprietary vendor upgrades their operating system, schools can extend their hardware lifetime by 5-8 years using Skolelinux. This allows schools to run twice the number of computers with Skolelinux. Due to lower hardware requirements and zero license costs, schools might get twice as many machines when buying new computers with Skolelinux.
Due to its stability, enterprise features and diskless workstation option, Skolelinux cuts the operating costs in half compared to any other desktop alternative in schools. The software is hand-picked by teachers and experts on computers in education. According to maintainers of 80.000 computers in Extramedura, Spain, the annual personnel costs to run a workstation is less than 50 Euro. We recommend centralized maintenance with Skolelinux, which might take 4-8 hours a week for 50-100 workstations and 320 users at a school. This could be reduced by centralised maintenance, due to the scalability of Skolelinux.
Some computer departments argue for a zero-maintenance policy in schools, stating that computers with proprietary systems don't need maintenance. Unfortunately such schools don't have any usable computers after a couple of weeks. When having 5-10 different students using a computer each day, it's just a matter of weeks or even days until proprietary software stops working - destructive students, malware or viruses making the machines useless. Manpower and enterprise configuration management are needed to restore such machines. An unmaintained Skolelinux system might work for a month or two. We have encountered schools running unmaintained Skolelinux for years.
Even if Skolelinux is stable when run on a solid network, it is unwise to skip maintenances. Skolelinux should be maintained professionally, even if it needs less maintenance than proprietary solutions according to school authorities. Regular maintenance of hardware, software and services is mandatory when providing safe and acceptable computer services in schools.
It's not enough getting hardware and a computer network installed in schools. There is also the question of educational use. A municipality needs to invest both in system maintenance and educational training. Teachers need training on how to include computers when teaching math, natural science, history and so forth. A major benefit with Skolelinux, is that low acquisition and maintenance costs free more of the budget for training teachers in computer literacy.