What every K-12 Windows District Needs

<![CDATA[Note: This post assumes you are reading this as part of the technology staff of a K-12 Windows based school district.  I am not a MAC guy and would not presume to know what a MAC district needs.  I won't bore you with my credentials, but I have been in IT a while and in education since 2003.
I have recently been helping a new tech director and came to realize that there is little guidance out there on the minimum things a good district needs.   Some of the things I have been suggesting are not at his new district and I would have assumed any tech staff would have those things.  I realize that some readers may feel some of these are unnecessary and that other items should be added.  Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section below.  These are NOT in order, I think they are all required so order seems unimportant.
1.  A VM (Virtual Machine) system.  I have almost every server virtualized.  Until 2012 I did not believe that  a virtual server could run as well as a physical one.  I was at a Spiceworks meeting and an acquaintance convinced me to try the free version of VMWare.   I now use ESXi for all my virtualization.  There are alot of reasons to virtualize servers.
2.  A helpdesk system.  I just mentioned Spiceworks so I might as well list that next.  It is great, free, fully customizable, and runs easily on any Windows machine.  There are others, but Spiceworks has a huge community and runs great.  I LOVE spiceworks!
3.  A Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) machine running and configured in your network.  After it is setup (2 hours max) and added to your group policy all your machines will stop downloading updates from Microsoft (a big deal if you have 100s of machines) and just get them from you server instead.  Mine is virtualized and on a 500Gb drive due to the size of downloads.   A properly configured WSUS downloads and accepts your defined approvals automatically.  You should not have to touch this again after setup.  You configure your AD to point to it and how the clients will process the updates.
4.  A Key Management Server (KMS) to distribute your Microsoft keys to your servers and clients.   Installing actual keys on every client takes time and puts your key out on every machine a student logs on to.   Instead, you can put your keys onto a KMS server and never activate anything again.   And, if a laptop is stolen, it will deactivate and stop working eventually.  KMS was not a must with XP when we had corporate keys that were unlimited…that is no longer the case.  Just do it!
5.  Look into the Microsoft EES agreement.  I am not a software renter by nature, but the EES agreement covers your operating systems on clients, servers, and CALs for a fraction of the cost.  It covers unlimited clients with the price based on the number of employees in the district, not the number of computers.  If you have anything close to 1:4 then you are way ahead going this route.  We added Office (again way cheaper than buying even every 10 years) and employees can install it at home as well on the base price.  It covers all the servers I am mentioning.
6.   An Imaging solution.  We use FOG.  I know there are lots of options and I have tried a couple.  I have been using it for several years and am very happy with it.  Free, PXE client boots, and works with everything we have tried.  In the educational environment we reimage machines all the time, if you don’t you should.  Labs are done almost monthly.  It refreshes the KMS server count and makes sure that the testing systems are ready to go each cycle.  I have all my servers pulled with FOG as well as images for my labs and other machines.
7.  Fresh images for your machines.  It goes without saying that being able image without having good images is worthless.  I have a VM that holds the pertinent images.  I update them there and repull them before doing anything major.  Having a good imaging server and good images makes your life so much easier.  These two items alone are worth their weight in gold.  Every time we start a testing cycle I reimage (it is just a click on the Web GUI) all my testing machines.  I know they are all fresh and ready to go.  I also know that if I am spending more that 30 minutes on a software issue that instead I can just image a machine in 10 minutes (6 minutes to image and 2 reboots to rename and rejoin…all automatic.)
8.   2 AD servers.  I think it goes without saying that a sole AD is a terrible idea.  But I do know at least one tech director that only had one, and then it failed.   I have one physical and one virtual.  I would recommend one at each campus if you are a multi-campus district.  The AD should be organized in both the user and computer categories so you can have manage them with good group policies.  My AD server does DNS and DHCP as well.
9.  Group Policies you can easily maintain.  If your AD is well organized, then good maintenance of your network is much more efficient with good policies.  I install all printers, network drives, software installs, all through policies.  That being said, too many policies can slow your network and ruin the user experience.  Take care!
10. An LMS (Learning Management System.)  There are a number of good ones.  We use Moodle.  It is the most full featured, very configurable, and the most powerful.  It is not the easiest or the most intuitive.  It will require PD, especially for your less tech savvy teachers, but is without doubt the best free option.    It doesn’t matter which LMS you choose if you at least have one.  No school should be without an LMS is this day and age.
11.  Become a Google district.  Even if you use Office 365 (which we could but don’t) then there are enough things to make GAFE a great choice and make it worth your time.  It is of course free, with unlimited storage, and a requirement to use Chromebooks in your school.  It is worthwhile just to provide your teachers each a YouTube account to save classroom videos.   It is also a great place to keep all PD videos for your district.  I record almost every PD session and more to provide a repository for staff to peruse at their convenience.
There are alot of parts that make up a good district.  These are just some that seem to be missing in some districts I have helped.]]>

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