Monday, November 8, 2010
ChMS - iPad Checkin is Live!
We first floated this idea in June, and after a few snags (for example, Zebra's wireless printers don't work on wireless, go figure) we went live with check-in for our second campus this weekend. Our check-in station consists of:
(1) Network in a Box (soon to be replaced with network in a brick)
(2) An old G4 laptop to be used for entering new families and correcting information
(3) Three iPads
(4) Three Zebra GK420d network label printers
(5) Three Apple Airport Express wireless bridges
(6) One really big box from Home Depot that allows it all to be packed up and rolled away.
The first thing that happens is that Network in a Box is plugged into the school's internet connection, creating our own wireless networks on the campus. These wireless networks are routed via a VPN to our main campus, creating an extension to our network in the remote location.
The iPads connect directly to the wireless network and then access our check-in system. We are using a custom Arena module developed in conjunction with CCCEV for check-in. Only minor changes were required to make it work with the iPad.
We tried wireless printers from Zebra, but on a secure network they would lose their network connection after 20 minutes, making them useless. After working with them for a month or so to resolve the issue we threw in the towel on them and exchanged them for standard ethernet label printers. We purchased Apple Airport Express switches to connect the ethernet printers to our wireless network.
Printing is handled directly from our server over the VPN. The print speed is nothing short of astonishing. It is every bit as fast as printing on our local network, even though it is being routed over the internet through our VPN. We could not be more pleased.
The only hitch we ran into was that the usb flash stick that hosts the OS for network in a box lost connection at one point causing the server to be unable to issue new DHCP leases. Thankfully we found that while nobody was checking in. We have ordered a hard drive for Network in a Box for the short term to prevent that from happening again. In the near future Network in a Brick (a very small replacement for the entire network in a box) should make that obsolete, but we are having some issues getting network in a brick to work through the school's firewall at this point.
The iPads are really what made this possible for two reasons. First, they are much smaller and vastly more portable than a machine + touchscreen solution. Second, they are cheap at around $500 each, costing roughly the same as the touchscreens on our Victorville campus kiosks. Out the door we spent about half the money per kiosk that we did on our Victorville campus. The downside is that they require more attention (can't leave them alone, they can walk off easily) and they have to be setup each week. The kiosks are still a better solution, but they cost more and are too big and bulky for a campus that does not have permanent facilities...
All told iPad check-in was a resounding success. We have learned a lot and should be able to go live with check-in week-1 at our next new campus.