Computing in education and the credit crunch


The Credit Crunch and subsequent recession, is nothing to celebrate particularly if you are someone who faces unemployment as a result.

I say this because I want to present aspects of the economic landscape positively without descending into "a bit of hardship will do us all good" rhetoric.

The area that I think will benefit from a new realistic attitude to consumption is computing, in particular computing in an educational context.

The current edu-ICT model is unsustainable. It simply costs too much and wastes too much. Don't take my word for this, BECTA the Government's educational technology quango has been saying so publicly for years.

In times of plenty no-one noticed the billions of print-outs, the mega-watts of power computers consumed and the enormous sums of money spent on software licences. Those times are no more.

The really good news is that excellent ICT provision does not depend on huge amounts of money. Below is a simple guide to tackling ICT over-spend in a crunch.

Step One

Stop paying for expensive proprietary software their licences.

You may have noticed that high quality free, open source software, free to download and legally distribute now exists for nearly all the applications commonly used in education. They work on Windows and Mac computers as well as they do on Linux computers.

Here is a list of a few of the best enterprise quality products: Linux, Xen, Open Office 3, Firefox, Chrome, Thunderbird, Evolution, Pidgin, Scribus, Inkscape, Gimp 2.6, Moodle, MPlayer.

Don't know them all or what they could replace? Then it's time you did. Download them now, try them, you'll be amazed.

Step Two

You have now downloaded all of the free stuff mentioned above and more (one gets carried away), evaluated it for yourself, and have just canceled £10,000 of licence fee renewals.

But what to do with the money?

Easy, stop wasting electricity; it is very expensive.

The normal PC has a 400 watt PSU and a 50 watt LCD watt monitor. Even on standby it uses 130 (plus) watts. The average server stack (in education) running 24/7 has 5 x 700 watt PSUs + airconditioning (5kw). If you do the sums this is big money by any standards.

Today the performance needed to run say Office type suites at a crisp pace can be had from desktop computers drawing only 20 watts max. Check out the Dell Hybrid Mini or the Eee Box if you doubt me.

Spend your upfront licence savings on replacing some of your gas-guzzlers with low energy desktops and use free virtualisation software to convert four hardware servers into one (really).

Sit back and next year, count the money saved on power and replace the rest of your everyday stock of with low energy equivalents. How much? Bear in mind that an average 1000 student setting spends between £15 and £20 thousand per year on ICT related electricity costs and the Eee Box costs £156 ex vat.