Education is one of Apple's traditional markets, but the company's gear isn't always a perfect fit.
Fairfax County Public Schools is a Northern Virginia mega-district, the 11th largest in the United States, with enrollment of more than 180,000 and about 120,000 computers. Like many K-12 districts, at one time it had a significant number of Macs, but in the 1990s moved to single-platform Windows support.
Education is one of Apple's traditional markets, but for a big district, the company's gear isn't always adequate. FCPS makes extensive use of central management and application distribution tools, which often don't support Mac devices, says technical architect Jim Siegl. FCPS does, however, support a bring-your-own-device policy.
>> Formalize BYOD. The district tacitly accepted BYOD for years, but recently IT decided to promote the program, which provides support and VPN access for Mac and Windows PCs, and network connectivity for tablets and smartphones.
>> Standardize the gear. For district-purchased smartphones, FCPS is transitioning this year from Research In Motion's BlackBerry to the iPhone. Apple's iPad is the tablet of choice. The district evaluated Android tablets but decided supporting multiple platforms wasn't worth the cost.
>> Use caution when considering tablets as PC replacements. FCPS has about 3,500 iPads deployed, Siegl says, and barriers to more widespread adoption include:
Lack of Flash support: K-12 textbooks published for tablets require Flash, and third-party tools that emulate or translate Flash content for iPads bypass the school system's mandated content filters, so aren't usable.
AirPrint and AirPlay: "People still want to print, and the appeal of being able to project from a handheld device is obvious," Siegl says. However, Bonjour, the multicast protocol these Apple services use, doesn't play well with large, complex multisite/multi-VLAN networks, he says, and complex workarounds aren't worth it.
Management: It's better than it once was, Siegl says, due to improvements Apple has made in profiles, mobile device management integration, Apple Configurator and application distribution. But the Volume Purchase Program only covers a handful of countries besides the United States, and Configurator is designed for small-scale operations, not the more centrally managed setup the district has.
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