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How Hybrid and Private Clouds Solve Problems for Schools with Limited Connectivity

By Matt Crum on July 7, 2014

ComputerLabSchool

The use of digital content is an exciting concept for schools in developing communities. Schools all over the world, especially those in developing countries, are adopting videos, ebooks, and interactive software to supplement the learning experience. However, schools with limited Internet (including some access to the Internet but sporadic and/or low bandwidth) face unique challenges. They cannot access content online consistently. Additionally, if the content is hosted locally on one’s own computer, how does this content get updated and made available to all in low bandwidth situations?

These problems have existed for a long time. The typical approach is to install a server somewhere within the school and use it to host content. Often these are either expensive Windows servers or complicated-to-maintain Linux servers. On top of that, there’s still the issue of getting these servers updated content. It’s typically an inefficient or non-intuitive process.

As one of Inveneo’s Project Engineers I’ve experienced these problems first hand while working in Tanzania. I was hoping there would be a better way to handle these issues and I believe there is: utilizing the private cloud or the hybrid cloud.

Public cloud systems such as Amazon Web Services, Dropbox, Google Drive, and so forth are great for scalability and maintenance because you do not host them. You don’t have to run your own server to get these services to work. By using the Private Cloud you get to own the infrastructure (unlike Amazon or Dropbox). That means you are responsible for the equipment and maintenance. This may sound complicated, but there are devices out that make this very simple and can be reasonably cost effective, particularly when considering my favorite device families to use – Synology DiskStations. Synology DiskStations have been marketed widely towards small, medium, and large business as well as home users as a NAS (network attached storage) solution that offers file backup and fault protection (RAID) solutions. Even better, it’s set up to flourish in limited connectivity scenarios. Synology DiskStations are remarkably easy to set up (you don’t use a command line once), and it opens the door to many options that schools in developing communities can utilize.

Highlights of some of the most useful features for ICT4E:

1) Syncing of Content

Dropbox has gained a lot of fame by syncing content from a folder on a computer to their servers. This is great if you have multiple devices and want access to the same content. Synology has actually borrowed this idea, and you can set up your own private file sync locally! For example, if you have 50 laptops (or even tablets) in a school and you want to distribute a new video to each of the devices, you can simply add it to your Synology. It will automatically get downloaded and distributed to all the machines that have the Synology Cloud Station client installed.

Now consider the situation where the new content that you’d want to distribute is a video produced by someone else not near the school. You can simply link up the Synology unit to a Dropbox or Google Drive account and it will download over time in the background while connectivity is available. Once the content has been downloaded, it will then sync to all the devices locally (just like before).

2) A High Level of Scalability

If you’re working across a number of schools and each school wishes to have the same content made available, you can simply configure the DiskStations to be able to sync with one another.

Synology also has a wide variety of DiskStation devices that have different hardware specifications that are able to meet the needs of most environments. These range from simple and cost-effective ARM-based processors with limited memory to powerful Intel Xeon processors that carry up to 8GB of memory.

3) Easy Remote Management

With DiskStation Manager 5.0+, it’s possible to set up outside access to the units utilizing Synology’s QuickConnect feature and their Cloud Station Server client. There aren’t any complicated port-forwarding router configurations. If you desire a more advanced setup, you can choose to set up your Synology as a VPN server. They even provide free DDNS services.

4) An “App Store”…for Servers?

These devices have a growing list of applications that you can simply login to the device and select for a one-click install. Some applications include Moodle, Asterisk (for VoIP), antivirus software, and WordPress. See the full list here.

5) No Monthly Fees

A lot of cloud services have a monthly or annual payment business model. This is not the case for the services provided by Synology.

These devices are incredibly exciting, and I am really impressed with the direction that Synology has taken. The user interface is incredibly easy to navigate when comparing it to products that can do similar things. They’ve found a way to make servers simple without losing a lot of functionality.

The most similar products to the Synology DiskStation family are from QNAP, which I’ve heard very good things about as well, but I had some complaints about the UI.

For more information on the Synology DiskStation please visit the Synology website.

Filed Under: Hardware, Power, Software, Solutions, Technology
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As a member of the Inveneo engineering team, Matt Crum thrives on creating people-centered technical solutions that are effective and as intuitive and non-burdensome to use as possible. This ranges from technology being implemented in environments such as remote computer labs (Community Knowledge Centers) to using GIS technology to better communicate, navigate, and understand important and relevant data.
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5 Comments to “How Hybrid and Private Clouds Solve Problems for Schools with Limited Connectivity”

  1. Matt,

    This is exciting – and gives added flexibility to users in rural / remote communities. I’m wondering about the cost of these devices…what can you share about that?

    – Randy

  2. Matt Crum says:

    Randy-

    The prices for these devices are also very flexible. I can speak for the Synology device line since that’s what I have more experience with. You can find one for $150 (DS214se) that is intended for only one or two people to use at a time to units that cost more than $3,000+ for large businesses and there are units that meet everything in between. It’s all depending on the use case. For small classrooms, I’ve used the DS213j and its MSRP is $220 (these prices are without hard drive) and you can find it on Amazon for < $200. If you are doing more media streaming to multiple students, I'd probably get a more powerful one such as the DS214 which is ~$300.

    There are literally 27 or so different models of these servers.

    I hope this is helpful!

    Matt

  3. Thadd Weil says:

    Good Afternoon Mr. Crum,

    My name is Thadd Weil. I’m the public relations guy at Synology America. This article has made a lot of us feel quite proud. We are thrilled to have units being used in Tanzania, and used so dynamically.

    If you’re interested, it would be fantastic to stay in touch. Perhaps even, you’d be willing to let us write a case-study on the network you’ve built.

    Please feel free to DM me on twitter @Synology, or through my email address linked to this message.

    Again, thank you for such an excellent article.
    Very much appreciated.

    • Hello Mr Thadd,

      My name is Fayaz Valli. I’m the Co-founder and CTO at SHULE DIRECT (T) Ltd. We are based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Shule Direct is an online platform that provides educational learning content for students and teachers in secondary schools.

      We are looking to install our content in schools and would like to work with you. According to this article, your devices seem to work for places like Tanzania.

      Please let’s continue this chat via emails. My email is fayaz@shuledirect.co.tz

      Feel free to contact me at anytime.
      Thanks.

      • Thadd Weil says:

        Good Evening Fayaz Valli,

        It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I tried emailing you directly, but received the message back as undeliverable. Here are the contents of that message:

        I’m the public relations specialist for Synology America, but I’m reasonably sure I can help get things moving for your organization. Our NASs certainly could function in school environment in Tanzania. It would certainly depend upon the use-case you are looking to deploy.

        Perhaps you could share with me a few specifics on what you are looking to do.
        From there I can better advise you.

        Have a pleasant evening,