Edmonton school network gets a management boost

The Edmonton Public Schools District recently found itself having to reduce servicing costs, improve quality of endpoint management services at 228 schools, reduce the need for in-person service calls and serve the IT requirements of a student population of 80,000.

Richard D’Amours, senior network analyst for the organization, said the best way to achieve the goals was with a software platform that automated patch management, software distribution, asset inventory and security policy enforcement while keeping costs low. The district’s solution was to deploy active monitoring software through Emeryville, Calif.-based BigFix Inc.

“A long time ago, everything used to be centrally funded. All the schools later went to site-based decision-making, so we came up with the technology as a utility model. It’s treating technology so your technology costs are as predictable as your utility bill,” said D’Amours.

“For us, as a department, it’s allowed us to be more proactive than reactive, but when it comes time to do the work physically in a school, you have to do it in the most cost-efficient way possible,” he added.

D’Amours said BigFix was installed on 25,000 computers at schools throughout Edmonton, running on assets as diverse as computers running Windows 95 to Windows XP. He also said the BigFix platform helped the school district accomplish its goal of distributed network monitoring over a wide number of assets, as well as reducing costs significantly.

“With patching in the past, we’ve been caught with worms. You’d see this unusual traffic and then with BigFix, you could limit the traffic and stop the worm. Now, we can look with BigFix at the patching level of every device in the district,” he said.

“We were also looking to see if people were locking down their machines with screen savers. With BigFix, we’d have password protection if the computer was unattended for more than 15 minutes.”

One BigFix representative said situations like those faced at the Edmonton School District are happening more and more often. “Most organizations are increasingly becoming mobile or losing control over segments of their own environment. It may have been acceptable in the past to take some action over the network in a couple of weeks, but now the velocities of the threats are coming faster,” said Amrit Williams, chief technical officer at BigFix.

Williams also said there’s increased pressure for companies to employ network compliance initiatives and to leverage technology to provide more efficient means to cut costs.

“You’ve got to where most organizations don’t know what they have, don’t know where problems are occurring, and once they get that visibility, they don’t have the capability to respond to it,” he said.

One analyst said that while BigFix has had a long history in the patch management market, there’s a big move among enterprises both large and small to find the single unified solution to achieve network compliance.

“For BigFix, particularly regarding large organizations that have these huge requirements for software distribution and security policies, the move to have one unified solution and one agent to push all this stuff out to simplify all these disparate activities is a really important trend,” said Andrew Braunberg, principal analyst for enterprise security at market research firm Current Analysis.

“BigFix recognized this early — they clearly needed a bigger technological footprint. But from a customer point of view, this movement is very much a pull and not just a push [into network compliance].” 074509

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