Alexandria Online

Thursday, November 11, 2010

If It Ain't Free Don't Buy It

In a previous post I wrote crankily about waiting for my free e-reader from Amazon, Google or Apple. I figure that when I buy a book, I don't get a separate bill for the paper, ink and binding. It's just one price. Likewise, I want somebody to send me a free e-reader if I agree to buy a certain amount of content each year.

I am going further with my insane demands. I want everything but my content to be free. Someone else has to swallow the cost -- not me. The only thing worth paying for is content.

I just collected over 300 great photographs of my son's championship water polo team in action. Of course, every parent on the team wants to have a copy of the greatest picture of their own son. And they want to download it themselves, maybe crop it a little in order to feature their darling, and print it on an excellent, cheap color printer in the basement office. Why not?

I loaded up these pictures on my Picasa account but hit the limit: one gigabyte. Then I bought 20 gigabytes more for just five dollars a year. Virtually free. The parents are delighted. Everyone has access to full-resolution files collected from all the amateur photographers who have contributed their pictures.

Meanwhile, back at school, we have sunk millions of dollars into our server room, tens of thousands into our industry-standard online course management system, and about a hundred thousand into a media distribution system.
The air-conditioning alone for this capital asset could pay for a lot of cheap consumer products that deliver content: DVD's, a heavy-duty Netflix account, and a lot of free or cheap storage space in the cloud.

When we planned the data and media infrustructure for our campus back in 2005, our plan looked very reasonable. It was the standard model for a technologically progressive school, featuring a hard-core data center with lots of heavy iron in it. Literally: I had to remind the engineers to check the load limit on the freight elevator before they shipped the chasis for our server environment.

Over the centuries, municipal infrustructure has gone through many changes. There was a time when whole neighborhoods in the Northeast were heated by a single steam plant. That model died and now pretty much every house has its own boiler. But schools don't usually generate their own electricity, purify their own water, or treat their own sewage. They rely on the municipal infrustructure.

Will the technological needs of schools eventually be met by some sort of municipal infrustructure? Our website is hosted offsite, as is our online course management system. But our student information system, general ledger software, file servers and email servers are in our server room.

In ten years, if I want to build a school that relies heavily on digital content, whether the content is developed by my teachers or selected and purchased from legitimate content providers, am I going to have to worry about how much air conditioning I'll need for the server room? Will I have to check the load limit on the elevator? And will I have to wring a million bucks out of my donors, who are really interested in educational excellence, not piles of humming machinery?

1 comment:

  1. That's really funny about buying heavy iron in 2005. But, weren't big machines already old fashioned?