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  • Andrew T Schwab 9:30 am on April 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Your Structured Cable Matters More Than You Know 

    Warning! Boring technical post follows. Read at your own risk.

    I recently contracted with two low voltage (ie. data cabling) contractors to do some cable plant improvements at my school district. I had two goals. First, I wanted to beef up our wireless for the upcoming SBAC testing and rather than pull new cable, I opted to back-pull an existing data drop and have it re-terminated in the ceiling for an Access Point. Lets be real here, wired workstations are on the way out and one data cable connected to a wireless Access Point can support 30+ wireless clients versus one wired desktop (mini-switches not withstanding). Back pulling is faster and cheaper than pulling new cable, especially if your existing pathways are full.

    Pro Tip #1 – When building new construction (or modernizing existing), make sure you spec big enough conduit and straight pathways for future data cabling growth. Nothing sucks more than opening a ceiling tile on a newer building and finding the 2″ conduit packed full of cable and realizing there are a dozen 45 degree turns in a run down a straight wing of classrooms.

    My second goal was focused on outfitting two Project Lead The Way (PLTW) classrooms with dual overhead projectors and AppleTVs. Each classroom had two interactive Eno Boards (before my time so I will skip my IWB rant) and the teachers and students were trying to use them with projectors on carts. You can imagine the shadow puppet possibilities.

    A big constraint on this project was time. I wanted to accomplish all this during our spring break. The PLTW classroom project was the trickiest, having to coordinate with Electrical work and Audio/Video installation. The Access Point back pulls were less time critical. For reasons beyond this post, I decided to use two cabling contractors. Contractor#1 I had worked with before and I new to provide quality work. I had them do the PLTW classrooms. Contractor#2 I had not worked with before but they came recommended by our Wireless Access Point manufacturer, so I decided to give them a try and had them back pull and install the APs.

    Pro Tip #2 – The quality of your cabling depends greatly on the onsite project Lead. It doesn’t matter how good a prior reference is, if the project Lead is different from the reference, your experience could be like a box of chocolates.

    I’m not new to structured cabling. I learned how to make and test cat5e cables in college (yes, college) and I’ve designed and managed the complete rewiring of several campuses over the years. I’ve also upgraded cable plants in some seriously old buildings so I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of cabling. In every instance I’m looking for several things that point to quality cabling installation. I know, most people don’t think of cabling as being “installed”. They just see jacks and think they can plug in and go. Not quite.

    Quick signs of a good install for your cable plant:

    • Labels. If the port labels don’t match the wall plate labels, your installer wasn’t paying attention to detail.
    • Proper wall and ceiling penetrations. You should see sleeves (conduit) and preferably you should see some open space in the conduit. Full conduit is a possible sign that the last few cables pulled through it were pulled a bit too hard.
    • Cable bundles are secured and the cables are straight and well dressed. I once saw a brand new install with easily a hundred cables bundled and zip tied together and not a straight cable in the bunch. It looked like someone had tried to tie wrap spaghetti. Your cable runs should look like one big cable, all running parallel to one another. Not spaghetti.
    • Support. Cable runs need to be properly supported. You should see J-hooks, cable trays or conduit supporting your cable as it is run through the buildings.
    • No sharp bends. You should see nice curved radius corners.
    • No zip ties digging into cables.
    • No unsupported cables hanging in the back of the IDF cabinets. Unsupported cables can work lose from the jack and cause issues down the road. Gravity!

    Why does all this matter. Cat5/6 is what they call UTP or Unshielded Twisted Pair. Each cable is made up of 4 pairs. The twist of the pairs in the cable is what prevents signal cross talk and ensures the rated speed and performance of the cable. When you pull on the cable or step on it or bend it, you mess with the twists in the pairs and this can lead to performance issues. Installers have to follow specific guidelines during installation to ensure they don’t damage the cable’s integrity while they are pulling, wrapping and bending the cable through the building. It’s also why quality installers will test every cable they run with a high end tester to ensure it meets performance specs when they are done. So, next time you step on a network patch cable, think about the twists you’re damaging in the process.

    Pro Tip #3 – Write cable testing into your RFP and have them provide a report on all cable testing. You’ll want it for the warranty.

    Back to my tale of two cable installers. Contractor#1 took their time and did things right. They tested every cable and ask when they had questions, suggesting solutions that met my needs and did not necessarily make things easier for them. The lead on the project was very detail oriented and customer focused. They ran into obstacles but never blamed my existing cabling or pathways (although they could have) and got the job done with little supervision from me or my team required. I am confident that when I plug in a device to the ports they ran, they will work (or my device is bad).

    Contractor#2 started off on a Sunday with minimal supervision. By the end of Monday it became clear that we had been sent the C team. Questions were not being asked and the solutions chosen were easy for the installers but did not solve our issues. Some of the issues that came up:

    • Back pulling the shortest cable in the room to avoid having to pop the raceway off and un tape the cable.
    • Mounting APs vertically on the wall instead of horizontally on the surface so they wouldn’t have to get into the soffits.
    • Running cable next to fluorescent light fixtures (never, ever run your cable anywhere near fluorescent lights and always cross power at 90 degrees. Never run parallel to power. Even twists in the pairs can’t protect against that kind of interference)
    • No consistency in AP orientation from site to site.
    • APs not being mounted on T-Bar in drop ceiling rooms because of “weight concerns”.
    • Repeatedly being told our current cable infrastructure was crap, which it may well be but we walked the job, they shouldn’t be using that as an excuse for doing crap work.
    • It went on and on.

    Pro Tip #4 – Be as specific as possible in what you want and how you want things done and then check in on a new lead often to make sure they are doing what you want. Problems caught early can be fixed early and ensure they don’t continue to be repeated. If they won’t listen to you or give you BS reasons why they can’t do it, escalate immediately.

    After some high level intervention and a second crew being dispatched, contractor#2′s lead appeared to be back on tack but I had to dedicate time and resources for oversight every day because I no longer trusted him to do the work the right way. Worse, the schedule was thrown off due to backtracking to sites to fix prior work and my team was distracted from their primary goal of upgrading four sites to VoIP (busy week).

    I spent some time with contractor#2′s Lead on Saturday watching him work. I discovered that the only cable testing he had been doing was plugging in an un-configured Access Point to an un-configured switch. So we know the power pair works but who knows about the data pairs. I guess we’ll see when we go to turn up the APs. I also found out that they had not been redressing the back pulled cables in the IDFs. (we had them terminate the back pulled cables into new patch panels, eliminating potential finger pointing at our old panels when it comes time to light them up). This is something that isn’t visible unless you are looking for it and it left the cables under strain (remember gravity!).

    Bottom line is I now have to task one of my people with checking everything contractor#2 touched so we can generate a punch list for them to come back and fix. I suspect it will be extensive. With contractor#1, I’ll do a spot check here and there but I’m confident we’re good to go. Of course on the first job that Lead did for me I checked everything, but now that I know he does good work, I don’t need to be as concerned.

    Pro Tip #5 – Walk your campuses and look at the cable. You should know pretty quick what condition it is in and where you can expect issues. Address them before you buy new equipment or deploy new network services like VoIP or you will wish you had.

    Why does all this matter? Well, I’ve walked into many situations where cabling is an after thought. Where it is obvious the lowest bidder or Joe Bob and his cousin have wired a school. In those situations, I know there can’t be reliable network service without constant firefighting by the IT department, which is always a losing battle. I’ve seen districts buy brand new networking equipment and plug it into total crap cable plants and expect performance, reliability and stability to improve. Ain’t going to happen. Your cable plant, structured cable, the wires in the wall, are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING in your network. Cable is the foundation upon which all else it built. Don’t skimp on the cable or the contractors and most importantly know what good cable looks like.

    Got any cable horror stories? Id’ love to hear them.


    • Urko Masse 6:34 pm on April 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Great post!
      Lots of small tips to build a checklist for any cabling work that you may need to get done in the future.

  • Andrew T Schwab 8:30 am on April 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Why 1:1 Isn’t Optional 

    Recently I had the pleasure of listening to a 3rd grade teacher who implemented 1:1 in November talk about how her class and her student’s have been transformed by student access to technology and the Internet in just a few months time. Awesome.

  • Andrew T Schwab 9:00 am on March 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    A Proven EdTech Recipe For K12 Success 

    Building a sound computing environment that provides “enterprise class” services for schools on a California budget isn’t rocket science. It involves making smart choices and focusing on what’s important.


    1. Plant some cable. It’s the foundation for everything. Crap cable equals a crap network.
    2. Wifi like starbucks. Instant on and connected to the web. Buy the features you need, and honestly, you don’t need that many. Less is more in school wifi (except when it comes to APs in the classroom). You need easy guest access, preferably with all IP/DHCP/Nat services handled by the wireless system and you definitely need per SSID bandwidth throttling. It should be super easy to enable these features and everything should just work. Meraki was the easiest wifi I have ever setup and it had the best management UI, period. Ruckus had the best APs I’ve ever used. I wish they would marry and have a kid. Beyond that, I’ve been less than impressed with any other wireless solution on the market.
    3. Go Google. Google Apps for Education. It’s a no brainer and the only reason not to do it is because your IT Department loves Microsoft (or hates Google) and thinks Office365 is a viable alternative for teaching and learning (um, nope).
    4. Web Filter less. Less is more. CIPA does not require that we filter twitter or YouTube. So why get fancy with expensive solutions. Go simple. Untangle worked for me for many years both as a web filter and a firewall. I even ran the free version for a few years. That’s right. Free.
    5. BIG Baby Iron. Virtualize and reduce those big noisy expensive servers. Go Open Source if practical, Hyper-V if not and VMWare with VCenter as a last resort (It’s expensive). I’m still trying for a Zero Server Server Room design but keep getting stuck with Active Directory (AD) servers everywhere.
    6. Store it somewhere cheap. Cloud is preferable but those virtual servers still need on premise storage. Local is easy. Nimble Storage is easy too, and fast. And big. And did I say easy to setup? I don’t usually design for a SAN but when I do, I use Nimble. A FreeNAS box works too. Especially as a cheap iSCSI backup target.
    7. MacBooks for teachers. Because. No, really. Because. Teachers are highly educated creative professionals. They can (and should) manage their own updates and applications and because MacBooks just work even when everyone is a local admin.
    8. iPads too. Yes. For teachers. With a tablet stand. And a mounted projector or big LED TV. And an AppleTV. Hardwired to the network. Because it works and it’s magical. Special training not required (in most cases).
    9. Chromebooks for kids (or ubermix if you can pull it off). Because. Because again they just work (sense a theme yet?). They can be supported at scale and they get kids connected.
    10. iPads too. Yep. iPads. Because they’re iPads. Have you seen all the apps? Just don’t go iPad crazy. They’re still harder to support than a chromebook.
    11. BYOD. For everyone. Why not? Build the network and they will come. (Don’t forget to get more bandwidth and really big subnets before you open things up to the world).
    12. Ditch the NAC. Access trumps security and control is an illusion. We’re schools, not banks. Complexity is not our friend. Inform, train and trust users and they will do what is right the majority of the time. Help the ones that don’t.

    This way lies reliable, scalable access for learning. Don’t buy the biggest or the best at the expense of kids. Not when every dollar spent on “enterprise class” is a dollar less to spend on devices for kids. And reliable access doesn’t require “enterprise class” just “enterprise enough”. Unless you’re LAUSD or SFUSD. Then you’re pretty much out of luck. No matter your environment, focus on what’s important and make smart choices. Everyone will thank you for it.


    Photo credit: @johnschuster

    Oh yeah. I almost forgot PD. Don’t forget PD. Lots of PD. Just in time PD. Individualized PD. PLN PD. Training Days PD. All kinds of PD. Lots and lots of PD. Don’t forget PD.

    What else did I forget?

    • Bob Henderson 4:05 pm on March 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I’d throw in a few options in there:

      4. Untangle works great, been using for 5 years now. Just convince people to stop trying to filter 1:1′s offsite and maybe teach students how to act instead..

      5. I’m a fan of Refurb Iron. Every server I have in deployment was 3+ years old before I even touched it, and obtained for at least 1/3 of the cost of new. Proxmox works great, currently running 4 clusters at various sites.

      6. Never had luck with Freenas, but am a huge fan of OmniOS+Napp-IT. ZFS is a game changer, and performance comparable to that Nimble box is in the ball park with the right setup.

      9. Unless your state decides that the mandatory testing software only runs on Windows/Mac, and won’t support it in an RDP session…

    • Brian Bridges 8:06 am on March 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply


  • Andrew T Schwab 3:42 pm on January 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    I Have A Playdate #playdate14 


    On February 15th 2014, I’m going on a play date. No, my Mom didn’t set it up for me. It’s better than that. I got together with some fellow awesome educators and organized it. This is my first time organizing an event, so luckily the other folks on the organizing team have experience with this kind of thing and we’re on track for a fun day of play (just three weeks away!).

    This play date is for educators. Educators that want to play with edTech tools to be precise. It’s a time to get together and figure out how to use cool tools (to PLAY!) with cool people that want to learn too. Playdate sprang from the minds of these awesome educators just last year and they are at it again this year with Playdate Chicago.

    We’re hosting ours closer to home. If you want to learn more about what a playdate is, check out Karl’s blog post and Hangout. If you want a day of No presenters. No agendas. Just playing, sign up for Playdate San Jose today!

    Hope to see you there.

  • Andrew T Schwab 10:39 am on January 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    VDI: The Old Frontier 

    This is the final part of the VDI Saga I’ve been writing about on and off for the past several months. To catch you up, two years ago, I inherited a 1000 seat VDI infrastructure build in 2009 that wasn’t performing. The situation was a result of a trifecta of poor design, old (and slow) technology and VDI Sprawl. My solution was simple, pair down the active VDI desktops to a number the existing infrastructure could handle, leaving only student classroom and lab computers on the old system and then phase out VDI completely over time in favor of mobile devices for students.

    In the last installment, I explained how we moved all our student VDI desktops onto a Nimble storage array which allowed us to limp along through the end of the school year. Over summer we made several changes. We setup a VMWare 5.1 instance using the appliance based VCenter server and migrated all district servers not associated with running View into the 5.1 stack. At the same time, we also moved these servers onto the Nimble Array. We doubled the amount of CPU and RAM in the View Database server. We increased C drive space on teacher desktops by 2GB (from 8GB to 10GB) and doubled the persistent D drive to 4GB, buying us some time until we could migrate them off the system and on to MacBooks. Then, with all student Virtual Desktops and district servers running on the Nimble, we fired the system back up.

    Separating out the servers from the view desktops eliminated the problem of the View slow downs affecting the production servers. The Nimble took the load of both Servers and student VDI desktops well, although we were seeing CPU utilization on the array spike at 120%. However, we did not experience any negative performance that we could detect. Teacher desktops continued to run out of space and the old SAN continued to exhibit slow downs but overall the system was much more stable than it ever had been. With Windows XP running out of time, our Blade servers criminally low on memory and the Nimble array maxed to CPU capacity, getting Teachers off of the system was the next logical step to phasing out VDI. In December, that happened with the epic handout of 350 MacBook Pros to certificated staff throughout the district.

    Looking forward, as more Chromebooks and iPads come on line, phasing out student Virtual Desktops will continue. Eventually all the backend VDI hardware, now going on five years old, will be shutdown and the legacy of VDI will be over. At least that was my plan. The new Director might have a different vision.

    For me, I look at VDI as a cost neutral (at best) solution to a standardized office computing platform problem. For bank tellers where security and conformity are critical, it makes sense. For learning environments, particularly schools, not so much. VDI has a lot of moving parts on the back end. Unlike Bank IT departments, School district IT departments are generally understaffed. As a result, skills tend to be a mile wide and an inch deep. The many specialized skills (Database, SAN, Networking, VDI software stack) required to keep VDI humming along are usually in short supply. On top of that, fixed computers with one sized fits all desktops are not conducive to 21st Century Learning. Computers in classrooms need to be mobile, they need to follow the kids and they need to be adaptable, able to run what they need when they need it. VDI is a business solution to the student access problem. 1:1 mobile devices are an education solution to that same problem.

    Locked down, one size fits all environments conspire to restrict users. Open platforms encourage users to experiment and learn. In education, we should be building open platforms for our classrooms and empowering users to make their learning experience with technology their own. But the IT part of me things a nice simple VDI in a box solution (with a nice fast Nimble Array) for the Office staff might actually be a good thing. What do you think?

  • Andrew T Schwab 10:34 pm on December 18, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    Wanted – Director of Technology Services 

    In a few weeks I will start a new chapter in my career as Chief Technology Officer for Union School District. My last official day with Berryessa Union School District will be January 3rd.

    Berryessa and I have come a long way together in a short amount of time. Things started out bumpy with major Virtual Desktop issues and regular Server room AC and power outages but we’ve made significant changes and I am happy to say, now have a stable platform on which to build moving forward.

    All major systems are, or soon will be, cloud based; including messaging and collaboration (Google Apps for Education), Wireless (Meraki), Mobile Device Management (Meraki) and VoIP (JIVE cutover is set for Jan 3rd!). Firewall and Web Filtering services are in the process of migrating to hosted solutions at the County Office as well.

    The Virtual Desktop system has been relegated to providing legacy student desktop computer access. Staff were upgraded to Windows 7 desktops at the beginning of the calendar year and over summer we pushed out iPad carts, ubermix netbook carts and chromebook carts so that there are significantly more student devices available in schools now than there were just a year ago. If that were not enough, we just wrapped up a district wide MacBook deployment for teachers.

    There is 5 year technology budget roadmap, an updated technology plan and a likely upcoming Bond measure with classroom technology as a top priority.

    The IT team is solid and dedicated and have performed miracles given what we’ve bee able to accomplish with the resources we’ve had.

    While at Berryessa, I’ve had the opportunity to work with great administrators, amazing educators and passionate parents who all care deeply about students and learning. Throughout it all, I felt very lucky to get to go to work everyday, knowing that we were on the path to making classrooms places of endless possibility and wonder. I am sad to be leaving Berryessa and yet very excited to be joining Union.

    Union is right now in the process of defining what their 21st Century Classrooms will look like in the next 1-5 years. I’m looking forward to bringing my background in building 1:1 learning environments, my experience with emerging education technology trends and my amazing Personal Learning Network of #eduawesome educators to that discussion.

    With my departure imminent, Berryessa has posted my position. If you’re awesome, believe in the power of technology to transform teaching and learning and really, really like helping empower administrators, teachers and students with technology, please apply.

    • Julie Judd 12:33 am on December 19, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Congratulations Andrew! On your successes in Berryessa and your new position. Happy Holidays!

      • Andrew T Schwab 3:09 pm on December 19, 2013 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks! Wait, what, you read this thing… yikes!

        Happy Holidays to you too.

  • Andrew T Schwab 10:56 am on December 10, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    If At First You Don’t Succeed 

    Well, I goofed the last rebootED episode post big time. First, the initial YouTube upload cut off the last 7 minutes of the interview. Second, I posted our guests name as Ewan McGregor (you know, that actor guy) when in fact we talked with the ever so more interesting Ewan McIntosh. so here is my attempt to get it right. Ewan McIntosh talking with Mike and I about bringing startup and design thinking to education. It’s the most compact and informative episode yet.

    • Kern 12:15 pm on December 10, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Wonderful! I love everything Ewan does!

    • Mike 12:27 pm on December 10, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      I never heard of Ewan McGregor – but I sure as hell know who Ewan McIntosh is!

  • Andrew T Schwab 8:30 am on December 9, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    Instruction vs. Teaching 

    Last week I had the opportunity to interview Ewan McIntosh from NoTosh on rebootED and he got me thinking about Instruction versus Learning. He said that here in the states we tend to substitute the word teaching with instruction. Think of all those Curriculum & Instruction departments out there. The word instruction carries with it significant meaning for us as educators, particularly at a sub conscious level. It implies, as Ewan points out, that learning requires instruction. Instruction also implies that there will actually be “instructions” and that to be successful at learning, one must complete the instructions as provided. The word instruction carries with it a very 19th century factory model connotation of what we do in the classroom. Instruction is certainly one aspect of education but it is not the only one.

    Contrast this to the word teaching. Teaching carries it’s own sub conscious baggage but I’d argue it’s more in line with student centered learning and where we need to go in 21st Century information rich, knowledge based classrooms. Teaching is the work of a teacher. It includes instruction of course but so much more. It implies “education” which includes academics but also encompasses moral and social aspects of a child’s development. Teachers teach, we don’t instruct. While the two words may be synonyms, the meanings can be very different.

    So if I were building up a new culture and shared vocabulary at a district, I would choose to use Teaching over Instruction but really I’d prefer Learning over both. Learning is an action word centered on the student. If we replace instruction with learning, magical things happen. Instructional rounds become Learning rounds and the focus shifts from what the teacher is doing to what the students are doing (and then how a teacher’s design and application of the craft, the pedagogy, is influencing student action). We get Learning objectives instead of Instructional objectives and Learning strategies instead of Instructional strategies. Teaching becomes about much more than just instruction, it becomes about learning. And building up self sufficient, intrinsically motivate life long learners is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

    • Ariel 10:41 am on December 9, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Great Post! I totally agree that “Learning” is the strongest word and encapsulates what we are striving for – that we are all learners on a journey. When I first started teaching… I was instructing by giving tons of information and having kids digest it and prove they could memorize. Now, I have moved to a mastery/flipped/personalized-individualized learning format… basically organized chaos. But, it’s a ton of fun! Student centered, authentic projects, collaboration, engagement, reflection… there is learning going on and it’s real!

  • Andrew T Schwab 8:00 am on November 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    Chromebook Management Best Practices (again) #cetpa13 

    I’m back in the Chromebook Lab (Rm 104) at the CETPA Annual Conference for day two of Chromebook Management Best Practices.

  • Andrew T Schwab 1:40 pm on November 20, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    Chromebooks, Netbooks & iPads, Oh My! #cetpa13 

    I’m presenting at the CETPA Annual Conference in room 214 (live right now!):

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