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Apple Macs
and School
Table of Contents
Why we have written this paper
The experience of four schools
School A
School B
School C
School D
RM recommendations
RM configuration
What this means
With Apple technologies becoming more prevalent in schools, it is important that, as
the Network Manager, you have all the information to hand to know how to implement
and integrate these – especially when Apple Macs co-exist with an existing Windows
infrastructure. We hope you find this guide useful, whether you are considering buying
Apple technology or have already done so and are seeking technical information to
ensure the adoption of this technology in your school runs as smoothly as possible.
With reference to four case studies, we will outline
some Apple network scenarios, highlighting the
pros and cons of each. In the final section, we
outline our recommended set-up and hope this
allows you to select the best course of action to suit
your school, taking into account considerations such
as appropriate network infrastructure or selecting
the most suitable option for saving students’ work.
Why are Apple Macs becoming
popular in education?
If you are considering introducing Apple Macs
into your school, it is worth taking a moment to
consider why they are becoming popular in schools.
Many of the schools we have spoken to are using
Apple Macs for key subjects, including design &
technology, media studies, art and music.
Some of the most frequently used applications in the
schools include: the iLife Suite, Final Cut, Logic and
Adobe’s Creative Suite.
Some schools are using Apple Macs as generalpurpose computers across their school and want
to give students using Apples at home the choice to
use them within school too.
Why we have written this paper
Schools often purchase Apple Macs for use in specific departments. In all cases, the use
of Apple Macs appears to have motivated users and represents an excellent solution for
music, media studies and art. However, schools have made different decisions regarding
the levels of integration that they want to undertake. They have been clear about what they
are trying to achieve and agreed an approach to bring the greatest value to their school.
In order that users experience optimal performance, Apple
and other software vendors design some of their applications
to save files locally on Apple Mac clients. The implication for
users created with roaming profiles and networked home
folders is that some applications will not launch or work
optimally with this configuration.
A few examples are:
• Adobe® Creative Suite®
• Apple iLife Suite (e.g. Garage Band and iMovie)
What are the challenges working
with large media files?
These particular software titles are produced and tested
for use on standalone machines only, not in a network
environment. As such, they either will not run, or not run as
expected over a network.
When networked user profiles and networked home areas
are introduced, some of the apps that create large media
files either do not function or are unreliable. Performance and
stability can also be compromised.
Some terms explained
When an application runs for the first time, it generates files
that are placed in the profile folder ‘Library’. Some applications
may not work if they detect that this folder is on a network
share. Others will work but will not operate correctly as they
expect this folder to react with the speed of a local disk.
What are profiles?
Profiles are folders of data created for each individual
user, which contain user-specific data, such as the user’s
application and system preferences (e.g. Desktop Wallpaper
settings). Profiles can either be stored locally on the client for
each user, or on a remote server. Network roaming profiles
are profiles that are stored on a remote server and are
accessed over the network infrastructure by any client when
the user logs on. Network profiles are normally preferable
to client based ones in schools as they ensure that a user’s
settings and preferences travel with them, no matter which
device they use.
network volume, or both. These areas have automaticallygenerated sub-folders to which most applications save to
by default. The default folders created on an Apple Mac are:
Documents, Music, Movies, Pictures, Downloads, Library (which
is the Profile folder), Desktop, Public, Sites. Microsoft® Word®,
for example, will have a default save location of ‘Documents’;
iMovie will have a default save location of ‘Movies’.
Media-intensive applications create large files that are
resource-intensive. If these files are generated over a network
connection, they are prone to performance delays and
possible corruption and the resultant file is either unusable or
is of poor quality (in the case of a movie, for example). This can
also cause issues with network profiles and, as a result, cause
long log-ins if the network backbone is insufficient to deal with
the demand.
What are home folders?
The following pages describe the experiences of four schools
Home folders are data storage areas created for each
individual user. These can either be local on the client, on a
that have introduced Apple Macs into their computer estate.
The experience of four schools…
School A
School A is an Academy of 1,200 students and in line for a rebuild.
This means that spend is constrained in this interim period.
There are 60 Apple Macs, of which only 20 are networked. The full estate is 630 computers.
What does this school want
to achieve?
School A purchased the Apple Macs principally for video
editing, design & technology and music. The students often
work in groups with two or three to a computer. Their mostused application is Final Cut.
The decision to have Apple Macs was also driven by the
desire for students to have experience of and exposure to
Apple Macs in school, due to the prevalence of Apple Macs
outside of school.
Decisions the school has made
to support their main usage
School A is currently working in a period of assessment
with Apple Macs. Their decisions, therefore, are based on a
desire to gain experience and determine which areas they
need to re-evaluate in the future, such as set-up, on-going
management, back-up, storage and archiving strategies.
For this reason, they’ve kept their set-up small and controllable.
They were also very conscious of potential impact on their
Windows network, so the decision to keep them separate was
to ensure that this didn’t impact normal business.
School A’s original intention was to use the normal My Work
areas to store video, but as they were using the Apple Macs
for HD video editing, the size of the files would be too large for
users’ My Work areas. The school is now using the Apple Macs
on a separate network and users authenticate through an Apple
server, picking up IP addresses via DHCP on the Community
Connect network. New users are created manually on the Apple
server when required, based on a list provided by the teachers.
This means that students are not able to use their Community
Connect log-on when using the Apple Macs. As they are
saving work locally on the Apple Mac desktops, it also means
that they have to use the same Apple Mac station each time
and students try to do this for the duration of a project. If they
do not, they have to synch work centrally and then have a long
log-on, as all their work will have to synch to the new station.
The school uses an external device to back-up the data on the
Apple server, but data that only exists locally is not backed up.
For flexibility, the school originally purchased MacBooks for use
in the music department, but they have now replaced those
with high-performance standalone iMacs, as these provide
a better solution due to their larger screen size and greater
peripheral support.
The school chose to go for a simple solution, because
they recognised they did not currently have the technical
experience with Apple Macs to support a complex integration
with Windows, which may have required additional
outsourced support.
Any other usage?
The MacBooks at School A are a bookable resource. As there
were concerns about users leaving data on them when they
were returned, they are now reformatted after each use. This
means users are personally responsible for saving their work
in a suitable place before they are returned. The saving of
work will happen automatically via a synch as they log-off, but
they must log-off properly to achieve this.
Pros & cons of the approach
Starting small, so able to use the
opportunity to learn what works with
the programs they want to use and the
current infrastructure.
By having a separate network for Apple
Macs, students are able to save faster.
This restricts users to using the same
machine each time to access their work.
The back-up is performed separately
from their normal regime. Any data that is
only stored locally will not be backed up.
Users must authenticate separately to
access their Community Connect home
areas on the Apple Macs.
MacBooks are ‘clean’ when being
booked out.
Responsibility for saving completed work
as part of a proper log-off rests with the
users. However, this can also be viewed
as a benefit, providing lessons of the
importance of maintaining their own data.
The experience of four schools…
School B
School B is a 1,000 student secondary school with a media arts specialism.
There are 60 Apple Macs in an estate of 560 computers. Of the Windows workstations,
200 are traditional desktop PCs and 300 are thin clients. The school uses Community
Connect network management tools to manage their network.
The Apple Macs are networked and used as both regular Apple devices and thin clients,
depending on what students are working on.
What does this school want
to achieve?
only using 65TB of the capacity. This requirement has also
driven the decision to ensure that all of the Apple Mac created
work is part of the central back-up regime.
The school wants to support a broad use of Apple
applications, particularly in the creative subject areas to
support their specialism.
School B has also provided staff and students with clear
guidance on how to use the Apple Macs.
The media, art and music departments are the key users
of the Apple machines. Favoured applications are iMovie
and Final Cut Express, but many others are used in
different departments. The school also uses a wide array of
peripherals, including HD video cameras, digital microscopes
and network scanners.
When accessing the Apple workstations for media studies
work, the students are provided with separate usernames and
passwords using Community Connect user management (e.g.
Username: Yr10_Gp3_Project4). These are used by individuals
or groups of students to access work on specific projects over
a wired connection. The creation of separate usernames and
passwords overcomes several issues:
Decisions the school has made
to support their main usage
• Project work is often done in groups and no student has to
share their normal network password with the group.
School B has made two main decisions – one relating to how
they spend their budget and the second on how the Apple
Macs are used.
School B has focused spend on the network backbone, server
and storage infrastructure, while reducing spend on the
Windows client hardware.
By repurposing older workstations as thin clients, they
have continued to be able to support the requirements of
departments, while at the same time releasing funding for
other areas – most notably, a 10Gb backbone, 1Gb links to an
Apple server and a 20Mb Internet connection. They have also
invested in high spec Windows servers, which are virtualised
and have a maximum storage capacity of 200TB. They are
keen to ensure that all the intensive and time-consuming
media work is properly backed up, although they are currently
• The home area for these users is located on the Apple
server and is often project specific. These two conditions
speed up the log-in process; firstly, as the connection to
the Apple server is 1Gb in these rooms; and secondly, the
project-specific log-ins reduce the log-in time, as only the
current project is synchronised at log-in. Older projects on
the same log-in can also be archived to minimise log-in
times further.
• Working in this way prevents one student’s Community
Connect network quota being eaten up by large media files.
(They can use 40GB on the Apple server, compared to 2GB
for their home folder on the rest of the network).
When accessing Windows applications and resources, the
students use the Apple machines as thin clients. Logins are
short and all applications are available from the terminal
server. Work is saved to home or shared areas as normal.
The experience of four schools…
School B
Any other usage?
Some applications look for a local home area on Apple clients
and will not run if they do not detect this. For these applications,
the school applies individual tweaks, so that they will run with a
network home area. These customer tweaks may be vulnerable
to being overwritten by future operating system or application
version updates, but work well currently.
Students and staff are able to borrow MacBooks for use outside
school. On these occasions, the user copies their own home
folder to the laptop, so that it is available while they are offsite. This can take some time (5-6 minutes), but students and
staff are aware of this. Where possible, they borrow the laptop
they used previously, so that the synch time is reduced, but
acknowledge that this is not always possible.
Pros & cons of the approach
All students can use Macs to log-in to
Community Connect home areas.
All work is backed up centrally.
Cost of investment in backbone, server
and SAN to facilitate this.
Logins are quick and users are able to
work in groups.
Additional usernames have to be set up
to have separate home areas for media
students, so extra effort and liaison
required with individual departments.
However, this also has benefits.
All home areas are on the network.
Applications which are designed to save
locally have to be tweaked to facilitate a
network save.
Information on these tweaks is gleaned
from technical forums on the Web.
When applications or operating systems
change, these tweaks will have to be
tested and updated, which could prove
very difficult and time-consuming.
Such change may not be supported by
either Apple or the software supplier.
The experience of four schools…
School C
School C is a secondary school with around 900 students.
The school’s main network is Community Connect and they have a small Apple network
of 30 stations. Of the 850 computers in the school’s estate, approximately 500 are
laptops with only a few of these being Apple Macs.
What does this school want
to achieve?
School C is keen to use Apple Macs mainly for Key Stage 4
and A-level students in media studies and music. The most
frequently used applications are iMovie, Garage Band, Pages
and Keynote. The school also uses two main peripherals: web
cams and camcorders.
Decisions the school has made
to support their main usage
School C has taken the decision that all students will be able
to access their Community Connect home areas from either a
Windows or an Apple Mac computer, but that certain work will
be saved locally.
School C has a 100Mb link between the Apple Mac desktops
and the Apple server and 1Gb between the Apple server and
the Community Connect server. All students are able to log on
to the Apple Macs using their Community Connect passwords,
but the school encourages them to save all video work locally
to avoid performance issues and to reduce log-in times.
Students therefore have to use the same Apple Mac in each
lesson. All other work can be saved in the Community Connect
home area as normal.
School C investigated a solution using an Apple server to get
iLife (including iMovie) and Final Cut files copied there, so that
work was not saved locally. However, the primary purpose
of this is now only back-up, due to the level of bandwidth
required to support this mode of use. The network team insists
that students regularly back-up the contents of the Mac folder
to the group share on the Apple server, where they have 1TB of
storage. If the server fails, the content is on the local machine
or if there is a local hard disk failure, then the data can be
restored from the Apple server.
The Apple server is backed up as part of the school’s server
back-up regime. School C encourages students to save files as
per the requirements of the application, and also encourages
them to back-up their work to the Apple server. Students are
trained on how to save their work during their first sessions
using the Apple Macs.
Each Apple Mac has a drive in excess of 300GB, so School C
has not had any storage space issues yet.
School C would like the current solution to have a better backup solution, which is less reliant on the users.
Pros & cons of the approach
Students can use their current username
and password.
Students have to remember to back-up
their work manually.
Students have to use the same machines
for each session.
Students are able to use iMovie, iLife and
Final Cut from the local machines.
The local Apple Mac stations may need
to have work archived over time, when
disk space is exceeded.
The experience of four schools…
School D
School D is a new build academy with over 1,000 students of years 5 to 18.
The computer client estate comprises 600+ Apple Macs, comprising iMacs and
MacBooks. They have Community Connect for user management and a further server to
house additional services, such as cashless catering and follow-me printing. In addition
to this, they have six Apple servers.
All the iMacs are connected to the network over 1G links and the Apple servers are
connected with consolidated 2Gb links.
What does this school want
to achieve?
The school was keen to implement Apple Macs as part of a
visionary statement to support the school’s ambition and desire
for innovation. They are used in all subjects by both teachers
and students. The iLife suite is a key set of applications, but a
wide variety of general curriculum applications are used.
Decisions the school has made
to support their main usage
Originally the school made the decision to use mobile user
home drives on all of the Apple Macs, which automatically
synchs all user data at log-on and log-off. This was to support
applications that required a local home area for saving (e.g.
the iLife suite). The consequence of this was unacceptably long
log-ins, even with the 1Gb link from the desktop to the Apple
servers. This was due to the very large quantity of data that
was being copied to and from the servers at the start and end
of each lesson, when large number of users across the school
were all logging on or off at the same time.
School D has now switched to normal network log-ins.
Teachers are configured with a local profile on their own
MacBooks, but students are prevented from saving anywhere
locally on the shared MacBooks and iMacs.
All users have a drive mapping (mounting) to their network
home area on the Apple server. For applications that support
saving directly over the network, these save directly to the
Apple server and most applications can be used in this way.
Login times are now acceptable.
This solution does not work well for some applications
however, including iMovie and Final Cut, which need to save
locally. The project files can be as large as 5GB and so can
take a long time to copy down and back-up again at the
start and end of a lesson. The school is now investing in 30
500GB USB portable hard drives, for those students that need
to use iMovie and Final Cut and take their files with them. The
teachers maintain a list of who has signed out a portable
hard drive. Students are still able to backup the content of
the portable hard drive to their network home area, but they
recognise that this may take some time and so do not backup
every lesson.
All work on the network is backed up as part of a central backup regime, which will include data the students have manually
copied to their network area from the portable hard drives.
However, the whole school backups are a significant size,
with multiple TB of data requiring to be backed each night.
The school has recently started making more use of Adobe
Creative Suite and 3D printing technologies, so expects the
demands of data storage to continue to grow.
Pros & cons of the approach
Students can access and save to
their network shared areas from any
Cost of implementing the 1Gb links to the
All servers are part of the central back-up
There is a considerable amount of data
that needs to be backed-up.
The devices are motivational and work
well for all departments across the
Some applications are not used due to
saving implications for students.
Good log-in times.
To make use of applications, such as
iMovie and Final Cut, they need to use
portable hard drives.
RM recommendations
RM recommends that in the majority of cases Apple Macs are set up to use local profiles
and local home folders for all users of the Apple Macs, as this is typically the best way to
ensure that all applications will work in a way that is supported by the software suppliers
and Apple. In some cases an alternative configuration may be more appropriate, such
as standalone computers with generic user accounts. Please contact us to discuss the
best approach.
Network integration is still possible, and network home folders
and shares can be made available as part of the solution,
the caveat being that users have to be configured to use local
profiles and home folders as a default.
To facilitate copying work, we recommend connections to
network home folders are created. These can be to either
a Windows or Apple server network home folder, and each
should be configured to be regularly backed up.
With this configuration, for each client device that a user logs
onto, be it an iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook etc., a new user profile
will be created including a local home folder. If a user saves
files locally on one client and then moves to another, the files
will not be automatically available on this client. Or if a user
makes preference changes to an application on one client,
these changes will not be available at another client, unless
the user re-configures the changes.
Where a school is using a suite of Macs, we recommend
a dedicated printer in the room to serve these. The printer
should be configured to use Bonjour network discovery where
available. Where a school is using mobile devices or where
there is a room with a mixed suite of Apple and Windows
devices, the Apple devices should be configured to use the
Windows server print queues.
RM configuration
RM has created a script that works together with some network policies to provide the user
with the following recommended desktop experience:
The folder highlighted in green is the ‘Mac Network Home’
stored on the Apple server. This is an additional home folder,
which should be used as the primary network storage location
while using a Mac, as it provides a fast connection using the
native AFP file protocol, and is available on all Mac clients
when a user logs on and utilises the storage of the Apple
server. This is only appropriate where your network has either
a Mac Pro or an existing Xserve* as a server. The Mac mini
server is not recommended as a server to hold large media
files, as it lacks in performance, storage space and resiliency.
The Shortcut highlighted in red is to the ‘Windows Network
Home’. This connection is to facilitate the access/usage of files
that are required and compatible on both Windows and Apple
platforms, e.g. Microsoft Word documents. In a Community
Connect network, this is the same location that students access
via My Work and their N drive.
The folders highlighted in brown are the local user profile
(‘Library’ folder) and the default save locations for most
applications. When producing resource-intensive files, such as
those generated when creating a movie in iMovie for example,
the local folders should be used to save the project/files.
Once the project is complete, it can be copied in its entirety
to the ‘Mac Network Home’ folder to facilitate back-up and
subsequent access to these files from an alternative device.
*See appendix
RM configuration
What this means
In order to help ensure as many applications as possible will perform well on a mixed
network infrastructure of Windows and Apple clients, we make the following recommendations.
Windows Network
Home Folder (Roaming)
Mac Network Home
Folder (Roaming)
User Logon
Local Home Folder
& Profile (Per client)
Networked Apple Macs should be set-up to use local profiles
and home folders for network users. Therefore, files will not be
automatically stored centrally and users will need to manually
copy projects or files to their network home folders. This will
ensure that users’ files are available for central back-up and
for access from other computers.
An alternative option is to copy these files/projects to USB
portable hard drives, although careful consideration will need
to be made on how to manage these devices. Users can be
encouraged to use the same client within a given classroom
to avoid profiles having to be created at log-on, and to avoid
having to re-configure any local preferences they may have
changed. Once a user has logged-on to a given client, the
profile is permanently stored on that client. The primary
network user home folder is called ‘Mac Network Home’, for
which a shortcut can be found on the user’s desktop.
The files stored locally on a client are not backed-up or
synchronised automatically in this solution. Users need to be
instructed to copy any projects that they need backed-up or made
available on other clients to their ‘Mac Network Home’ folder.
Over time, the number of local profiles stored on an Apple Mac
will increase as multiple users log on. Eventually this will result
in the need to clear these profiles. We recommend that this is
configured as a termly or yearly task.
Although this solution puts the reliance on the students to
copy files back to the network shares and, as such, increases
the potential risk that students may lose data, some schools
have recognised an educational benefit to this approach. It
teaches students the importance of managing their own data;
a potentially important life skill in both in the work place and at
home, where they may not have the facilities to automatically
back-up their own work for them.
RM is working to improve this solution in the future to provide
a better user experience that reduces the risk of users making
manual errors.
Apple Xserve
Mac mini
Mac Pro
Apple has discontinued the Xserve
hardware platform. If you are looking to
purchase a Mac server, you now have
the option of Mac Pro or Mac Mini.
The Mac mini servers are normally only
recommended for solutions of 50 Mac
computers or less and where no storage
of user files is required on the server.
Mac Pros are recommended for larger
solutions, and where users will be saving
large files from applications, such as
The most suitable server for your school
is dependent upon the proposed scale
of your solution (including consideration
of future growth).
If your solution is on this scale and is not
likely to grow beyond this, the Mac mini
could be a good choice, but may not be
suitable for storing large media files.
Both of the Mac mini and Mac Pro
servers can be supplied with the Snow
Leopard Server OS.
More details about Apple’s transition away from the Xserve are available at:
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