When Mitch Garvis asked his son’s elementary school teacher to print a document and the teacher asked him to come back and pick it up the next day, he realized something was wrong with the school’s IT system.
“I asked, ’Can’t you just print it up now?’ He said, ‘Well, it takes about thirty minutes to log on and open the program and get it printed,” said Garvis.
An independent IT consultant based in Oakville, Ont., Garvis decided to tackle the issue and volunteered to overhaul the school’s computer labs and network.
The IT makeover involved 30 computers spanning administration, classrooms and the computer lab at Meadow Green Academy’s south campus.
A private school based in Mississauga, Ont., Meadow Green has roughly 20 staff and 130 students across two campuses for students in kindergarten to Grade 8.
Rather than purchase new computers, ranging from $400 to $1,000 a piece, Garvis upgraded the existing PCs with memory and video cards that cost roughly $100 per machine to support the move from Windows XP to Windows 7.
“Most of them were four-year-old Dell Pentium desktops, and one of the great tools that I used was the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit, which literally performed a scan of all of the computers on the network,” he said.
According to the scan, the computers had 256MB of RAM and videocards that would not have been compatible with the drivers, said Garvis. “The computers were perfectly good. They didn’t need to be replaced,” he said.
Microsoft Canada donated the licenses of Windows 7 to Meadow Green, said Garvis, and the school purchased the Microsoft Office 2007 suite with the intention of upgrading to Office 2010.
But the older operating system aside, the problem wasn’t so much about the computers as it was the lack of management and maintenance of the machines, Garvis pointed out.
“It was easy for the teachers and students to look at these computers and say they were junk. But they weren’t junk. They weren’t properly managed and maintained,” he said.
The PCs were extremely slow, Garvis pointed out. “When I say very slow, it would literally take them 20 minutes to log on, start a program and do anything,” he said.
“If you have a 45-minute computer class or lunch break and you have to spend 20 minutes logging in and starting your program, then you are not going to do it,” said Garvis.
Garvis said there were a lot of reasons the machines ran so slowly, from lack of disk space to lack of centralized tools to virus infections. A computer with a 40GB hard drive, for example, might have had 20MB of free space.
Now students and teachers can log in and have their applications running within 90 seconds from a cold boot, he said.
The volunteer makeover was “a real learning experience,” said Garvis. “I encourage every parent with the knowledge of IT to offer to volunteer at their kids school and do what I did,” he said.