Necessary Skills For Peace Corps ICT Volunteers

Imaging

One particular skill that I have found extremely useful in a non-networked but big-lab setup is that of imaging. Imaging is useful when you have computers of all the same make and model, meaning their insides are technically interchangeable with one another. It lets you install all of your software on one computer, include the operating system, and custom tailor that one computer so that it is perfect, just the way you want, and then clone that installation onto every other computer. But instead of, “installing,” over and over again, you use special imagining software to just do a binary duplication onto the new computer. It changes setting up a new machine from a 2 to 3 hour interactive customization party to a 3 minute, let-it-run affair. Huge time saver here.

Thankfully there are FOSS imagining solutions and the one I use is called Parted Is Not Ghost (PING). It requires minimal extra knowledge beyond knowing how to boot from a CD and not being freaked out if you see a term like gzip or root or shell, but it allows you to focus on the initial set up and making it really good instead of minimizing your customization because each change you make will need to be made dozens of other times. It also allows you to provide a final solution to whoever takes over for you, showing that person that maintaining these computers does not need to be a, “whatever works,” job; that there are tools out there to help run your computers at their peak performance across the board.

The one caveat of course being that all your hardware must be identical. This has multiple benefits beyond imaging, the other primary benefit being the ease of knowing which spare parts you need and minimizing the number of types of spare parts you need lying around at any given time. However, getting identical parts can be nearly impossible when you can’t even get parts in the first place. Again here I am lucky because the Government of Kenya buys its computers in bullk so I only manage three different types and the majority are of one type. But it’s still something everyone should think about.

The End

I think that about wraps it up. If anyone would like me to explore one of these concepts further in comments, feel free to ask and I will be more than happy to reply. I hope this has been helpful for any future ICT volunteers or anyone hoping to incorporate ICT into a project. It’s not always easy in the field, but nothing in Peace Corps is ever easy, so we just suck it up and take what we can get and make the most of it. Cheers!

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One response to “Necessary Skills For Peace Corps ICT Volunteers

  1. Thanks, that was refreshing to see again that you’re thinking about a lot of the stuff I’d been thinking about in Tanzania. I would expand from just UPS too: I think that AVS and other line conditioning can be more cost effective for labs.

    http://ttctip.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/umeme-uchafu-and-you/

    I like FOSS CloneZilla cloning software but I haven’t tried PING.