Most discussions of online classroom educational offerings generally analyze course content and software Systems such as Blackboard. What about the computer hardware that enables educational content and software to perform their functions? What equipment do these systems require? How does device facilitate or discourage the use of online courseware by students and faculty?
The Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD), a leader- in distance learning since 1972, employs a model hardware system to deliver online courses to students enrolled in its seven accredited colleges and two ancillary educational centers. Also, DCCCD has built a second hardware network that leases online courses and materials to other educational institutions around the world. Hal Spiegel, project manager of the DCCCD Blackboard 5.5 system, refers to these hardware systems as the e-campus system and the title-college system. Both of these systems employ separate but similar hardware configurations that run Blackboard and support Web-based software systems.
“We have to keep these systems running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Spiegel says. “So, for each of these systems, we have a production server system and a test server system. Anything we want to add to the production server must first undergo testing on the test server to ensure that what we’re adding won’t crash the system.”
What is it? A Web server is a computer whose function is to supply data to client computers through the Internet. When you use the laptop on your desk to access the Internet, your computer becomes a client and communicates with a server that serves up the Web page you’ve requested by typing in a URL.
The DCCCD server system includes two linked servers, one that runs the software application that communicates with your desktop client computer and another that contains the database.
The e-campus system alone runs a two-Dell 6350 configuration with four Pentium III Xeon processors per server capable of running at speeds of 550 mega-Hertz per processor. The servers feature impressive random access memories (RAM) and hard drive storage. RAM for each server totals four gigabytes, while the hard drive storage employed by each weigh in at one terabyte.
A gigabyte is one billion bytes, and a terabyte is one trillion. By comparison, your desktop computer might-use 256 megabytes (million bytes) of RAM and 20 gigabytes of hard drive capacity.
DCCCD employs several other server systems. One, for example, operates a firewall for security. Still, another runs the DCCCD Global Learning Network, which leases online courses to other colleges across the country and around the world. Two more servers enable programmers at DCCCD to develop programming for online classes. Video streaming servers deliver video to desktops across campus and provide coverage of various events. Marketing servers provide information to faculty members from other colleges’ and universities’ online courses offered for lease by DCCCD.
A massive equipment room houses these servers and pumps data in and out through multiple high-capacity T1 fiber optic data lines.