Herein is compiled a set of frequently asked questions addressed from various user and stakeholder perspectives.
Why is the My sCool Server built on Linux?
Imparting education using Linux, hence the open source ecosystem has its manifold benefits including freedom to choose, innovate and scale. This is apart from the several financial benefits. With the rapid adoption of Linux and its variants in industries, it becomes imperative to provide quality education around this ecosystem. All the more, the infrastructure demands of the Linux ecosystem are not very daunting. It can be easily deployed on most existing infrastructure or can be provisioned for at a relatively low cost. Acknowledging these facts, most educational bodies have made Linux a part of the curriculum. But, as is true of any change, resistance and hurdles are imperative. Hence, with the premise that Linux is the way forward, we need the best and fastest method to disseminate lessons around this ecosystem.
My sCool Server, an open source product, very well addresses all challenges. It presents the next generation in computing and learning convenience for schools and students alike. It utilizes proven open source technologies namely, LTSP, Ubuntu LTS and several others to achieve this. These are the same technologies that have already empowered numerous schools and millions of students around the globe but now put together in a never before avatar.
From the School Administration
How is MSS an ‘environment and pocket friendly’ solution?
- MSS helps extend the lifespan of existing end client systems that are currently at all schools, majority of which satisfy the minimum client system specification requirement2 GB RAM, dual core / current generation Celeron CPU, PXE boot capable LAN port.
- For just working with the MSS, there is no HDD required on the client systems as well. Hence eliminating a major failure prone component and saving precious energy.
- There is no need to install and maintain individual end-client systems, hence no need of annual maintenance contracts for each of them.
- When new systems need to be added to increase capacity or replace ageing ones, small form factor, low power consuming and low heat generating devices meeting the minimum client specification can be purchased from the open market. This eliminates any vendor lock-in.
- There is no license cost involved for number of users accessing the server for any period or for creating and distributing the USB bootable live media to any number of users. Hence it is ideally just a one-time investment.
The savings due to all the above result in an unparalleled low cost of ownership and a very quick return on investment. Hence these add up to make the MSS a pocket and environment friendly solution.
Do we need to purchase any other hardware or software from Recherche apart from the MSS appliance?
No, if you already have sufficient computers and a network that meets the prerequisites criterion. This solution is designed with open-source principles at its very core and hence we support zero vendor lock-in. This means that we directly or indirectly do not force our customers to purchase any additional hardware from us. Though we do supply the end client hardware at the most competitive rates, the client hardware specifications2 GB RAM, dual core / current generation Celeron CPU, PXE boot capable LAN port are such that one can purchase it from the open market as well.
Do we need to purchase any License for the server or Client Access Licenses (CAL)?
No, GNU/Linux distribution has been used to create the server. It uses open source licenses and all the applications are governed by their own licenses. Freedom granted by those are applicable to the use of this server.
Do we need to purchase licenses for each USB bootable live media that is created from the MSS?
No, you can create and distribute unlimited number of Linux USB bootable live media from the one-click media creator located on the administrator’s desktop. The simple instructions to create the bootable media are available in the Take Linux Home section of the user manual.
What kind of training is required to operate the server and the applications?
- All the training required to get up and running with the server is provided to teachers and administrators who would be using the system by our engineer during deployment. The appliance is accompanied with a “Getting started guide” and a comprehensive, but simple “User manual” which will help with day-to-day tasks pertaining to the appliance’s usage and operations.
- All the curriculum prescribed or otherwise packaged applications are well documented and supported by several textbooks (free or from leading publishers) and/or by the respective open source projects. We recommend that you visit the respective project website for the requisite details.
- Our pre-sales team is well equipped to to guide your teachers with the pedagogical content, the values and skills they reinforce and its sources.
What if the software prescribed in the curriculum changes?
We have done our research and are assured that there is no imminent change to the curriculum. However, we have designed the solution in keeping with the evolving needs of our education system and if there is any such change we will incorporate it free of cost, within our warranty support period and at a very nominal charge beyond that.
This is subject to no change in the curriculum to the operating system platform and the required application is available in the respective online repositories.
What does the warranty cover?
The appliance hardware is covered with comprehensive warranty for a period of three years. The software support is limited to providing built in “Factory Reset”. If the functioning does not return to the state it was shipped from our “factory” then the customer will be responsible for shipping the hard disk to our nearest support centre for replacement. The replacement shall be done free of cost within the first year. For complete details, do refer to the Limited Product Warranty terms.
What kind of support is bundled with the server?
Recherche will be providing after sales support via an online forum exclusively accessible to our end users for only matters directly related to operation of the server. The bundled support for free factory state restoration will be up to one year from the deployment date.
For queries related to all the software bundled with the server, such as bugs, or functioning, or “howto” help etc, the user shall be guided to the respective forums and bug trackers.
No telephonic or on-site support is bundled by default with the appliance as it is designed to be functionally intuitive and is accompanied with comprehensive documentation. However, the same can be availed of at extra costs. Please contact us for the same and one of our representatives shall shortly get in touch with you.
Do we need to purchase any maintenance contracts or warranty extensions?
- The Recherche team has gone great lengths to ensure that the My sCool Server is an extremely easy to operate appliance designed with the principles of zero maintenance and zero vendor lock-in. It comes with factory reset and any point in time restoration features that can be easily managed by a minimally trained staff member by referring the accompanying documentation. Moreover it comes with sufficient warranty in case there are any unforeseen failures. Hence we do not recommend any maintenance contracts.
- Yet for those who seek solace for the unknown and the uncertain, we offer per year warranty extension at a maximum of 20% of the solution value. Please contact us for a customised offer and one of our representatives shall get in touch with you shortly.
Can the My sCool Server be installed on hardware provided by the school?
The team at Recherche has taken great pains to bring to you the standard configurations with an optimised hardware and software combination that also passes on the benefits of the economies of scale that we have achieved. Yet, the solution can be installed on hardware procured by you via our bespoke installation service and should only be opted for deployments with special requirements that are not satisfied by our default options.
Do note that the benefits of our standard warranty terms can’t be availed for such bespoke installations and the specifics of the same shall vary.
How can the teachers now teach using Linux when they are only used to Windows?
Firstly we see this as a great opportunity for the teacher(s) to evolve as well. Before we answer the ‘how’, we believe that we must address the ‘why’. One of our founder has written a piece on learning computing concepts instead of tools which perfectly addresses the ‘why’. Our pre-sales team shall handhold the teacher(s) through the content evaluation and lesson planning phase and shall conclude the sale only if they are fully confident and satisfied.
Even now, if you still have your doubts about the ‘how’, then just request a demonstration meeting by contacting us and we are sure that we you shall have it answered to your complete satisfaction.
Can the MSS be used to setup a smart classroom?
Yes, all you need to do is extend the LAN wiring to each of the classrooms that you would like to transform into a smart classroom and install a client PC therein. Once the client PC is connected with the smart class infrastructure (interactive white board, projector, etc.), the content hosted on the MSS is available to each of the teacher’s in their classrooms. With appropriate WiFi infrastructure, the content can smartly be accessed on hand-held devices such as mobiles and tablets as well. This way lesson dissemination and assessments can happen completely digitally. The MSS comes bundled with driver support for some industry leading smart classroom infrastructure hardware. If you wish to know more, please do contact us.
From the Computer Lab In-charge
Do I need to install the solution on our hardware myself?
No, the My sCool Server (MSS) is an integrated plug and play device with optimised hardware and software all packaged together to provide unprecedented convenience for operating of computer labs at schools.
What are the minimum hardware requirements of the client computers/terminals?
- Chances are, hardware that you already have is more than sufficient for client terminals. One of the great advantages of an MSS is that you can set up a high quality lab of terminals for your students to use, by leveraging the machines you already have.
- Recommended minimum – 2 GB RAM, dual core / current generation Celeron CPU, PXE boot capable LAN port.
- Usability of clients with lesser specifications will have to be custom evaluated. Do get in touch with our pre-sales team requesting a free-evaluation.
- For those purchasing new PCs, it is recommended that they purchase Mini PCs which of the above recommended configuration as they are available from several vendors with 3 years of warranty. They consume less space and result in a very compact setup as evident in this pictures –
Do I need to purchase special or additional hardware for all client machines?
No, there is no need to purchase any additional hardware if your existing systems meet the recommended minimum specifications2 GB RAM, dual core / current generation Celeron CPU, PXE boot capable LAN port given above.
Do I need a LAN (Local Area Network) to use this appliance?
Yes, a minimum Gigabit LAN (Cat 5e) is required that connects all the client computers to the MSS appliance via a switch (Gigabit). However 10/100 Fast Ethernet (Cat 5) can also be used wherein you may experience minimal but acceptable delays in the client boot process. Do note that one need not invest in a Cat 6 infrastructure as that is 10xGigabit which is far beyond than what is needed and shall not add any additional performance benefit whatsoever.
For further details see these networking guidelines
Is internet connection a must to use this solution?
No, Internet connection is absolutely not required to use this solution on a day to day basis. However, to avail updates, improvements on a periodic basis or to get our instant remote support you may need to connect to the Internet. Connecting the MSS to the Internet is a very easy process and can be done via a mobile wifi hotspot. The simple steps have been outlined in the user-manual.
How many clients can be connected to one MSS?
- Up to 70 simultaneous clients systems have been benchmarked on our entry level server offering over a gigabit1000 Mbps/Cat 5e and abve network. For specific details or any further queries, do contact us.
- Number of user accounts that can be created is limited only by the disk space available for their data. Some of current installations house more than 2000 student and teacher accounts.
- Clustered server setup can scale up to hundreds of clients and we do this via our bespoke installation services.
What is the hardware & software specification of the MSS?
The default MSS is built atop best of class stock Intel hardware, an Intel NUC. It comprises of a Intel Celeron Dual Core current generation processor, 4 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD. It is built atop Ubuntu Li-f-e (Linux for Education) which is a specially packaged operating system for educational purposes maintained by one of our co-founders.
Many wonder how can such a configuration support multiple simultaneous user sessions across so many devices. That is the magic that we have woven together to present the end users an unprecedented, yet no compromise, computing experience. All current scenarios of deployment have shown that this configuration is sufficient for varying workloads. Yet the solution is flexible enough to scale and harness the capabilities offered by any higher configuration hardware to address the needs of more demanding workloads.
Can I have custom user logins instead of the default student and teacher login accounts?
Yes, we can help do that for you if you provide us the details prior to shipping of your appliance or you can also create the same via the user management module accessible to the administrator.
Can I install any new application on the server?
- The MSS has been carefully packaged with everything that is needed to address the needs of the prescribed curriculum. However, if you find it lacking in any way then we would request you to get in touch with us via the feedback form on the contact page.
- Yet, since the solution is open source and you would like to try something at your end, you are free to do so within the terms of the limited support warranty. Do remember to perform the requisite backups before you get adventurous.
Should I periodically update the applications on the server?
Short answer – No. Read on for a long answer.
My sCool Server is a completely open source product, including the “glue software” from Recherche that binds the upstream components together.
Updates are generally available from the upstream projects on which it is built. Official OS update repositories are configured in the server, but disabled by default and end user can decide if they want to keep the system up to date.
Recherche recommends a conservative approach of “don’t attempt an update if it ain’t broken” as new features may come with new bugs and inconsistencies vis-a-vis the lessons in the textbook.
Recherche will not be responsible for any breakage in the system due to online updates as Recherche has no control over the various software that are coming from multitude of sources.
All bundled software is covered by its own end user license agreement and Recherche assumes no responsibility for it.
Can we host any additional offline content on the server?
Yes, it can be done via the mssadmin account. Just download the content and put it under /var/www/html/mss/custom or by any user by putting the content in /home/username/public_html. The former can be accessed via
https://server/ and the later via
https://server/~username/ from a browser on any system connected on the LAN. For latest and up-to-date details on this feature, refer to the Content Platform section in the user manual.
Familiarity with web server administration concepts is recommended to be able to fully exploit this feature.
Does the recovery media creation feature backup all user data?
No, the automated server recovery mechanism is not designed for that purpose. However, it can be performed manually by following the tips given in the Backup and Recovery section in the user manual. We also provide assistance services at a small cost to help you secure user data. Do feel free to contact us for the same.
Does the factory restore feature restore all user data?
No, as the name “factory restore” suggests, it is designed to restore only the system state to a state when the server left the factory.
However, user data is not deleted or modified by this process, so if the data is still on the disk then it would be available after restore as well.
For complete backup and restore options, refer the Backup and Recovery section in the user manual.
From the Teacher
Do I need to learn anything additional to start using the server?
No, once the server is connected to the network and all systems have been booted over the network, the experience of the desktop environment is almost the same as that detailed in the textbooks. Our pre-sales team would have already familiarised you with the pedagogical content and the lesson planning process that you need to follow and shall ensure that you are completely comfortable with the same prior to concluding the same.
For those who opt for the default installation, the teacher logins are also preconfigured details of which are herein. Hence all you need to do is login using the default credentials and get going with imparting the lessons.
What training is required to use the packaged monitoring and screen broadcasting tool Epoptes?
The tool, Epoptes, is very intuitive and no instructional training is required to use the same apart from what is already included in the Monitoring and Broadcasting section of the user manual.
Can I do my custom lesson planning on the MSS?
The MSS comes pre-loaded with some world leading Learning Management System tools such as Moodle and Kolibri (from Learning Equality). Both these tools are very intuitive as well as are accompanied by some great user documentation. A teacher can easily plan and design their custom lessons by weaving together the pre-loaded open educational resources or by loading their own custom content. Among several other features these tools also support assessments.
From the Student
What is the recommended hardware for the bootable live media creation?
- For rapid creation and optimum performance while using Linux from the USB bootable live media, we recommend USB 3.0, minimum 4 GB media.
- DVD media can also be used, but due to its slow performance and susceptibility to damage it is not recommended.
- Once you have the requisite media, you can request your teacher or computer lab in-charge to create the bootable pen drive using the steps given in the administration manual.
Do I need to install Linux on my home computer from the USB media to use it?
- No the USB media created is a bootable live media which means that you can experience the entire operating system with all the pre-loaded applications without the need for installation.
- For best experience and data persistence across reboots it is recommended that it be installed. It can be installed on a separate partition along with the existing OS or in a virtual machine on a hardware with enough resources.
Can I install the Linux operating system on my home computer from the USB media created?
- Though you need not as it is a live media, yet for best experience and data persistence across reboots, once you are convinced that this is the operating system you want on your home computer, you can install it by completely replacing the existing operating system. It can be installed on a separate partition along with the existing OS or in a virtual machine on a hardware with enough resources.
- The different installation modes are supported and the instructions are presented when attempting an installation and requires no special training. You may study Hackett and Bankwell comic book guide or many online installation guides available before attempting if you are unfamiliar with the process.
- For installing or using Linux on your home computer, ask you teacher to refer Create Live USB section in administration guide.
From the Innovation Seekers
Isn't this the same old thin-client technology?
Short answer – No. For more details read on.
The solution is predominantly “fat-client” technology. The difference lies in where the computation is done. Unlike thin-client, wherein the computation happens only on the server side, in fat-client all the computation happens on the client side itself. It utilises local CPU and memory/RAM to execute all instructions given by the user.
This solution can also support thin-clients though it is not recommended as that shall bring in all the shortcomings of the thin-client technology with it.
Can anyone put together a server like this?
Of course, we create, use, maintain and contribute to the open source technologies that are part of this solution. If we can do it then anyone can, but there is no precedent of the same as yet that is available in the public domain and hence we clearly doubt that it will be this well made.
Now, if you may ask – that how do we plan to sustain in the face of competition? We recognise and realise these facts –
- Almost every school needs a device like the MSS, hence even if there were 100 more players, it will only result in a better world with more empowered educationists at the pace that the world needs. We alone will never be able to do it all.
- But we also know that even if someone were to start making it today, our contributions to the core technology ingredients of this solution and first-hand know-how shall always keep us ahead in providing unmatched value addition. And we shall strive hard to remain the leaders.
Has no one else innovated any other solution to the problem addressed herein?
- Despite our extensive research, we are yet to encounter anything that is as convenient and efficient as the My sCool Server.
- The state of Kerela (Impact study report TAPMI dated 21-07-2010) and Karnataka have attempted various models to achieve the same end goal of imparting education around the Linux ecosystem but with varying degrees of success and with varying but huge cost implications to the exchequer. Here is also a commendable document with a brief comparative study of the two models (Study by IT4Change Bangalore 13-07-2010).
- There are a few organisations who are providing custom Linux distributions and solutions that propagate a vendor lock-in culture whenever you want to add additional or replace end-user systems, hence ours is definitely superior to those as well.
- Our innovation’s goal has also been to present the most cost effective solution till date to achieve the same end-result, yet with an expansive scope without any constraints. Herein is once again a chance for your institution to not only be the front-runner in implementing this most innovative and effective solution but also set a precedent for the rest to follow, most of whom seem clueless about how to go about the mammoth task of spreading computer literacy and IT-enabled education amongst the masses.
Can the MSS solution be patented?
Yes, it can be, but nothing in this solution will be patented as we are proudly open source and shall remain so as we love the pace of innovation that this anti-patent model offers. Also to make a clear distinction between innovation and invention, we clarify that we have not singularly invented anything in this solution as we would not discredit any of our open-source community brethren. However, there is true innovation in whatever we have detailed above and we are very joyous to present it forth. Read this to completely understand the rationale behind our philosophy as no one else could have explained it better than the Stallman himself.