Deploying an iPad 1:1 program – What we learned… – Part 2

I would like to thank Brian Meehan, Director of IT at Allendale Columbia School, for writing this post. Due to the length of this post it will be published in parts. Feedback and suggestions are always appreciated. Thanks for reading!

Welcome to part 2! When last we left our iHeroes, we had just deployed iPads to 83 students, 14 faculty and 5 staff members. We had a good plan… what could go wrong?

Well, for starters, wireless. Not coverage, mind you. Not even throughput (initially). Density. In my previous life as an IT consultant, I had always had to design wireless networks for the widest coverage. The mobile device that moved from office to office. But in a school setting, there aren’t laptops in a series of cubicles. There’s 25 iPads in a classroom – every classroom! And how many users are carrying multiple IP-requesting devices? In John DeTroye’s presentation at the Mac SysAdmins’ Conference, he stated that we should be designing our wireless networks for device density, and then cited 3x as our planning capacity. So if you have 100 devices currently checking in (we average about 230 per day), then design for 300. An access point in every classroom is the least we can do.
Then there’s user management. iOS 5 didn’t not launch until 2 months into the school year. This meant that our roll-out was on iOS 4.3. That’s OK, we can upgrade when we’re ready, right? Wrong. Apple’s iWork products all seem to update with iOS updates. Pages 1.6 requires iOS 5.x, and the student that didn’t upgrade to iOS 5 yet now can’t download Pages at all because the App Store only carries the latest versions. And when Numbers 1.61 came out with iOS 5.01, some subtle file format change caused students to not be able to open documents created on other versions. And even 5 months later, I still have 3 students who are on 4.3.
Finally, there’s the March 8th problem. Apple released iOS 5.1 with the “new iPad” on March 7th. And to add support for the new iPad, they updated ALL of their 1st party apps. So did many other developers. So on the morning of March 8th, there are 83 students with iPads that have a notification bubble on the App Store icon with an infinity symbol (sarcasm) in it. “Updates?! I must have them now!”.
  • iOS 5.1 update – 511MB
  • Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Garage Band, iMovie, NoteTaker HD, Star Walk (and the list goes on) – Over 4GB
  • Trying to keep our Cisco firewall from melting into a puddle of molten plastic and metal? Priceless.
I needed a caching solution in a very bad way.
Enter Apple Configurator. This is the product we should have had back in August of last year. If you’re thinking about using Apple Configurator, go watch Randy Saeks videos about it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Yes, it’s a cart-style solution again, but I can now:
  • Assign apps to devices, then pull the apps back and re-assign them as necessary. Great for grade level specific apps, or for students that leave your program.
  • Link a user in Open Directory/Active Directory to a iPad, keeping the same group structures I already have. It’s the closest I’ll ever get local credentials and Apple ID to play.
  • Pull updates down to a single location (sort of) and then update multiple iPads from that one station. Conceptually, our entire Middle School could use 1 sync station.
  • Update significantly faster. iOS updates in a fraction of the time, app updates in minutes, not hours (looking at you, iMovie and GarageBand), all downloading only 1 time per sync station.
There are still drawbacks to this solution. For example, users will have to be assigned a specific cart. For our school size, two carts should be fine… one for lower and one for upper school. And it means I need to dedicate hardware to each cart station. Even a simple Mac Mini is about $600. The carts from Datamation are the ones I’m interested in.
If I make them Supervised devices – and I would so I can assign and remove apps – then I prevent them from using iTunes to manage their devices. How will they transfer music and movies to their iPad? Over wireless, I guess.
And then there’s JAMF Software’s Casper Suite, which our neighbor City of Rochester School District uses. They have the largest deployment of iPads in NYS outside of New York City.
Which will I decide on for next year? Or can we continue to move forward, just blocking iOS updates at the firewall. Tune in for our exciting conclusion!

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