Low-cost solutions to traditionally high-cost problems

Last year, we rolled out three high-cost, high-maintenance systems: Cisco Clean Access (wireless network security), Follett Destiny (library system), and NutriKids (lunchroom point of sale). This year, we have none to roll out, which should feel extremely pleasant by comparison! Not only can we afford to slow down innovation after our big push last year, but we are also changing our strategy for how we meet requests for high-end systems. For the main Catlin Gabel web site, we are considering going open-source (Drupal), which could save thousands in development or acquisition costs. For network security, we are considering using ubiquitous technologies (WPA, Radius) to control network access in case our expensive, proprietary system (Cisco Clean Access) fails to perform to expectations. For a number of smaller functions that require web support, such as the admission inquiry process or bookstore sales, I have written custom scripts to take the place of expensive, commercial solutions. In future years, we may take an open-source or custom approach to save thousands on our current job application system.

In some cases (network security in particular), we may only achieve 90% of the original, imagined functionality with the lower-cost solution, but that may end up being far preferable to assuming the financial and support burden of the high-end solution.

Cell phones and other mobile devices are more problematic. There doesn’t appear to be a cheap way to provide mobile phone and data services to a school population. Once Skype-over-mobile-phone becomes more practical, perhaps we will see a better solution in this area. For the moment, we must choose between overspending and underproviding, neither of which are palatable options.

Now if only we could replace our 20 Windows servers with Linux!

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