Wired for engagement – the Schoolwires blog

Respecting privacy. Safeguarding data. Enabling trust.

Posted by Debbora Woods on 1/22/15 12:00 PM


Next Wednesday is Data Privacy Day, celebrated annually on January 28, as an international effort. It began in the United States and Canada in 2008 as an extension of the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe.

Data Privacy Day's goals are to:

  • Raise awareness and educate consumers to better understand how their personal information may be collected and the benefits and risks of sharing personal data
  • Empower consumers to express their expectations for the use, protection, and management of their personal data
  • Inspire consumers through concrete, simple, and actionable tips to more actively manage their online lives
  • Encourage and motivate consumers to consider the privacy implications of their online actions for themselves and others
  • Encourage businesses to be data stewards by being open and honest about how they collect, use, and share personal information and clearly communicating any available privacy and security controls

So, what can your K-12 districts and schools do to support these efforts, engage families, and reach out to your communities with valuable information? Check out the Data Privacy Day website full of information about the effort, how to promote it, how to get involved, learn privacy tips, and much more!

P.S. Want to learn how Schoolwires protects your websites and data? Read about our safe, secure, reliable web hosting here >>

Topics: Website Hosting, Data Privacy

Dreams in the K-12 cloud: Part 2

Posted by Peter Weyandt on 8/28/14 9:00 AM


Guest Blogger: Peter Weyandt, Sr. Manager of Hosting and IT

I recently vacationed for a week on Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Quiet evening walks, long morning runs, coupled with daytime fun in the surf and sand occupied the bulk of my week. Before I knew it, the arduous drive home was staring me in the face. Each year at the end of my vacation I think to myself, "That was too fast! How can this be over already?" It never ceases to amaze me how fast time moves when you are busy doing things you enjoy.

And so it was with the close of the 2013 calendar. Our Hosting Operations team had just completed an almost perfect start of school. The satisfaction of our recent accomplishment was starting to fade. The planning for the year ahead was surfacing on the horizon like a summer sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.

In the late fall, I found myself sitting with my technology management colleagues to plan our 2014 objectives. I was pleased to be joined by newly promoted Hosting Architect, Cliff Moten. We were cognizant that a large number of improvements were needed to replicate and improve on our successful 2013 start of school. And, we were up for the task! In fairly short order, we amassed a list of four large projects that would position us for an even better start of school in 2014. Here's a disclaimer - this is written in tech speak:

  1. Total redesign and implementation of our database environment. This will be an enormous task. Technology gains over the past few years will allow us to move from physical SQL clusters connected with fibre channel to virtual SQL clusters backed by pods of physical hosts.
  2. Add new physical servers to our Web hosting clusters we built last year. This will give us N+2 redundancy. This is the ability to drop two physical hosts in a physical pod and still be able to have our virtual clusters deliver Web pages. For our Schoolwires Hosting Operations team, N+2 = peace of mind. For our K-12 school districts, it means fast delivery of their Web content even during high volume times, like the start of school.
  3. Network modification in one of our hosting centers. This will improve our speed of delivering content.
  4. Redesign of our mail servers. This will provide needed performance improvements and stability for our e-Alert system.

Needless to say, the implementation of these projects took a herculean effort on the part of our Hosting Operations Team. It was a common sight over the past seven months to walk into our area and see Michael Struble, my top Hosting Engineer, and Cliff Moten looking like they were in the middle of a battle that seemed to have no end. My hat is off and I take a deep bow to Mike and Cliff for completing these projects on time. We recently had a small sample of the fruits of their labor when conducting pre-start of school load testing of our hosting environment. All systems passed with room to spare!

We are highly confident that our hosting environment is set for another successful start of school for our clients. We should not only see 100% website uptime again, but more consistent website performance as well. Even this week, we are already seeing the start of school traffic build. While we are not yet at the peak, we see the wave building and know the crest is soon to come. All signs point to exceeding the results we saw in 2013.

Once we are through with start of school, I need to talk Mike and Cliff into taking a well-deserved week long vacation. In fact, with what we've put together for our clients this year, maybe two weeks is in order!

Want to discover why our clients are so happy and satisfied - returning year after year? Check out our Services & Support Web pages >>

Topics: K-12, Website Hosting, Website Reliability

Dreams in the K-12 cloud: Part 1

Posted by Peter Weyandt on 8/26/14 9:00 AM


Guest Blogger: Peter Weyandt, Sr. Manager of Hosting and IT

Dreams are a wonderful thing. Especially when you can set goals and make plans that can bring those dreams to fruition.

As this summer winds down and our client K-12 districts and schools start ramping up for the new school year, I can only envision the amount of preparation that happens in order to successfully reach their dreams and goals. I imagine those goals start off with a successful "Back to School" program that engages parents, students, and teachers to get them excited for the new year.

About two years ago, I sat down with my technical management colleagues here at Schoolwires to do some dreaming of our own. I was new in my position managing our Hosting Operations team and was wondering how I could really have a positive impact and bring some innovation to an already highly functioning hosting operation. One area we identified for improvement was our uptime for start of school. My dream was to have 100% uptime for our clients' K-12 district websites and school websites during this hectic time of year. This is the time when K-12 districts and schools need reliable hosting for their websites in order to roll out the enormous amount of communications to parents, student, teachers, staff, and their community. And, it's no coincidence that as a result, our servers and network get a marathon-like workout at the start of the school year!

If you are a CTO or IT specialist, you know in the technology world that high utilization of systems can lead to downtime. And, server downtime - especially during the start of school - is a concern for districts. In order to ensure minimal to no downtime during the stressful, high-usage start of school period, we focus on our K-12 districts as our #1 goal.

I sketched out some dream ideas and turned to my Hosting Engineers, Cliff Moten and Michael Struble, to start identifying the critical goals we needed to make this happen, including:

  • Re-designing systems that had given us problems in the past
  • Recognizing ways to stabilize possible fail points
  • Ensuring we can quickly and effectively communicate issues - both internally and externally
  • Testing our new designs to ensure they meet the expected demand at the start of school

With our objectives lined up, we began to execute our plan. This may sound too technical for some of you, but IT types will love this...We replaced our existing world-class firewalls and load balancers with new state-of-the-art equipment that greatly increased our capacity. Then we replaced our existing Web clusters by creating them on new modular physical host pods. We also clustered virtual utility servers off of these physical host pods to isolate utility jobs away from our Web servers. Concurrently, we rewrote our communication processes and emergency procedures. Finally, we moved all our clients from the old environment to the new, while minimizing downtime. Here's the exciting news: when we conducted a computer simulation to load test our new creation at 140% of our expected start of school load, the results were successful!

A lot of hard work by my hosting team, combined with terrific guidance from my managers - and a little luck thrown in - resulted in a dream come true. 100% uptime for the start of the 2013 school year! As that school year came to a close, my team met again for our annual dreaming session, which of course included 100% uptime for this 2014 start of school season! Come back here on Thursday to read Part 2 and discover what we've been putting in place for our clients in 2014 to ensure we all have another successful start of school experience.

Updated 8/28/14: Check out Part 2 to this great story!

Want to learn more about our hosting operations? Visit our Services & Support Web pages today!

Topics: K-12, School Websites, Website Hosting, District Websites, Website Reliability

Mobility Series: Part 1 - Challenges On The Journey

Posted by Debbora Woods on 7/1/14 9:00 AM


Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Andy Swickheimer, Director of Technology, and Michele Turner, Data Integration Manager, from Noblesville Schools in Indiana. We spoke about the importance of “mobility” – not physical movement, but ensuring web content is mobile device "friendly" for K-12 districts.

The district has been on an interesting journey over the past several years searching for the perfect solution for communications and community engagement. They shared with me the challenges they faced with previous websites – maybe some of these sound too familiar to you?

  • Significant downtime with websites often crashing due to traffic volumes
  • Slow hosting because of hardware and server issues
  • Vendor was bought out by another company that no longer supported their website
  • Unable to translate languages to accommodate the diverse demographics of their community
  • >Website content was text-heavy since systems couldn’t house engaging photo content

Their story doesn’t stop here. They also shared the goals Noblesville leadership has to provide a forward-looking communications and community engagement solution to their K-12 students, parents, and staff. Here’s a sneak peek – there was a focus on mobility, especially since they are an eLearning and 1:1 district. Their goals will be covered in our next blog post, so make sure you come back to learn more!

In the meantime, visit our mobile solutions Web page to learn more about our Mobile Communications App and Responsive Web Designs for K-12 school districts.

Topics: Mobile Communications App, Community Engagement, Mobility, Responsive Web Design, Communications, Website Hosting

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