Too Cool for School

HP-Mini-5101-Bussiness-Netbook-left

Recently our Headmaster announced that the School was going to trial a 1:1 netbook program with out Year 9 Students. Currently our Students use desktops in Computer Labs and some class sets of notebooks with the same SOE that’s installed on our desktops. The move to netbooks will create new challenges for our Staff, especially with some of the requirements, most notably that Students will need to have administrator access to their netbooks.

The device that we’ve selected for the trial is the HP Mini 5101 which has the same spec’s as the other netbooks, except we’ve optioned these with the HD screen(1366×768) and a 6 cell battery. The SOE that we’re building for the trial includes Windows 7 Professional, Office 2007, Visio, Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements. The SOE is pretty simple and the Students can add any other apps that they need when they’re handed over. The only problem with the software has been the Adobe licensing, which has been summed up by Rob Flavell on Learn | You | Good to perfection.

Since we’ve only ever had a notebook program for Academic Staff, we’ve been talking to colleagues at School’s with successful Student notebook programs to help work out a successful plan for Grammar. We want to the Students to feel ownership over the device which will help motivate them to look after their machines and reduce damage and support requests. However, we want the machines to be on the network, on the domain, and be able to push settings and updates out to the Student’s netbooks and ensure they have the correct printers installed, drive mappings and other group policy settings.

During the year we spoke to a School that has a notebook program for their Students(year 7-12) and their IT Staff have 3500 re-image jobs per year. This worked out to be 2 or 3 reimages for each machine in the School which is probably a full time job for someone! We’ve kept this in the forefront of our minds when planning the SOE for the netbooks even though we’re only deploying 150 machines for the pilot, we have to assume that the pilot will be a success and that before long we’ll have 600-700 netbooks to manage.

We’re dealing with the possible flood of reimaging requests with a two pronged attack. The SOE will have two partitions, one for the OS and one for Student data, and we’re working on an imaging method that the Students can run themselves. The dual partitions are setup with the Windows 7 users folder moved to the second partition and creating a junction/symbolic link to the new location, nice explanation from Scott Hanselman here. This setup allows us to reimage the partition with the OS and programs, and leave the data intact. Once we’re confident with the reimaging we won’t need to worry about backing up the Student’s data before reimaging their machine. The Student self imaging will work, at the moment, using a separate imaging VLAN and getting the Students to boot their machine from the network card and loading a custom Altiris WinPE boot image. We looked at options for imaging the netbooks from a hidden partition or via a USB HDD, but we need the imaging job to be initiated by Altiris so the computer will get the right name and settings etc during the sysprep process.

So that’s just the start, we’ve placed the order for the netbooks with HP and should have delivery before Christmas, and will need to have them finished and ready for the Students at the end of January. As we find problems or something interesting the image, netbook or how we’re supporting them, I’ll post here.