About Mukwonago Area School District
It sounded like a good idea at the time.
In 2011, the Novell NetWare®-based network for Mukwonago Area School District needed a complete overhaul of application deployment, directory, file and print services. The Attachmate Group had recently purchased Novell, and it wasn’t yet clear what the company’s future strategy would be. Microsoft didn’t have an affordable licensing model, and open-source solutions were a rising IT trend. Although the district had used Novell technology for more than 10 years, open source seemed like an attractive option for decreasing hardware, software and support costs. “The district determined that if we had to completely overhaul our mission-critical components anyway, it would be worth the risk of implementing open source in an attempt to reduce long-term costs and increase sustainability,” says Kelly Kovnesky, supervisor of network operations for the district.
They installed Linux servers, Windows Terminal Server, Zimbra Collaboration Server and open-source tools for user account management. These products were supposed to work with existing applications or comparable open- source alternatives.
The open-source approach initially reduced hardware and software costs by 11 percent. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to offset the 42 percent jump in external support costs. In addition, key features of the Novell system, such as application deployment and desktop management, weren’t available in open source form, and alternatives failed to meet the district’s requirements.
By the end of that school year, overall network stability and customer service had declined to unacceptable levels. The network experienced up to 10 outages per month. Technicians spent hundreds of hours developing custom applications, integrations and system management workarounds. The Internet filter was neither scalable enough to handle the needs of the district, nor stable enough for future wireless Internet traffic.
“Although we considered the timing and intentions of our open-source implementation plan to be perfect, and though we experienced some successes, the end result was minimal cost savings, decreased stability, and a questionable technology partner,” Kovnesky says.
“Looking back, there were many surprises that left IT staff struggling to find solutions for services that we were once able to offer our users with ease.”
With a cost analysis and system performance metrics in hand, Kovnesky recommended that Mukwonago Area School District return to a Novell-based network. “We re-evaluated our needs and determined moving back to Novell was our best option,” she says.
Plus, the IT staff was already experienced with Novell, and their Novell Gold Partner℠, Skyward IT Services, demonstrated how easily Linux-based systems could be migrated to the latest Novell technology which supports both Linux and Windows platforms.
“Novell’s newest product offering includes integration for Windows Active Directory which is necessary for some of our virtual server applications,” she says. “Skyward built our original Novell network, and it had been stable for 10-plus years with only one directory outage. Overall network stability was our number one concern under the open-source model. Demands of new statewide testing initiatives required a more secure, stable, scalable and manageable infrastructure.”
The IT department whole-heartedly supported Kovnesky’s recommendation, and the district started the 2013 school year running on a Novell system again. The new system included Novell Open Enterprise Server, Novell iPrint, Novell GroupWise® with mobile data synchronization, Novell Filr and Novell ZENworks®.
The previous year running open source— with external support costs, additional integration costs and the expense of frequent outages—ended up costing the Mukwonago Area School District more than the prior 10 years combined running on Novell systems. “Open source software isn’t free,” Kovnesky says. “It’s like ‘free puppy syndrome.’ It’s going to cost you something somewhere down the road.”
Today, with Novell ZENworks, only five IT technicians handle all of the district’s IT support. “Centralized management was a huge selling point for us. That’s what tipped the scale. When we looked at device management, Microsoft couldn’t come close,” she says.
Novell integration with Active Directory supports every system in production and provides the industry standardization that makes it easy for the district to integrate with web-hosted systems such as Google Apps, Curriculum Loft, Destiny, Discovery Education and applications not available in open source.
“We’re also excited about Filr and the easy file access it provides our mobile users. It’s the missing piece to the puzzle—Filr gives us the convenience of the cloud with the security of being on-premise. The sharing option offers much-needed features similar to Google Drive. Filr met the need before we knew we had it.”
And, favorite features in Novell GroupWise—sent items properties, retract-resend-delete, custom scheduling, change-to mail items, and busy search—have been welcomed back by district users.
“GroupWise gives us higher levels of security and a feature set that was sorely missed by users,” she says.
Now, without frequent network outages, Kovnesky can focus on usability—such as adding mobile computing capabilities. “We all have higher productivity because the system hasn’t gone down since school started. I don’t receive emergency text messages at 5 a.m. anymore,” she says. In the near future, the district plans to deploy ZENworks Mobile Management and the mobile capabilities in Novell iPrint.
Kovnesky concludes, “We’ve increased network performance and stability ten-fold since we returned to Novell. We’ve had zero outages and are able to deploy applications with ease. We’ve reduced the network administration workload in ways I never thought possible.”