Thu 31 May 2007
With all the buzz about the Coptic Mission, I thought I would take this chance to share a little about the their technology infrastructure. My wife, Sherry, and I have had the blessing of serving in the mission with His Grace Bishop Paul numerous times during the past eight years. In the fall of 2004, we got the opportunity to go to East Africa for an extended stay, during this time one of our major responsibilities was to establish the information technology infrastructure for the Coptic Hospital and Hope Center in Nairobi, Kenya.
Our goal was to setup a scalable network infrastructure from the ground up, the current setup consisted of only a few computers running Windows 98 and they weren’t networked. We needed to support five different buildings and about one hundred users to start with the expectation of rapid growth. Before leaving the United States, we packed up and sent over in a container one new server, a few used servers, several desktops, a 220V UPS, switches, server cabinet and a 45KW generator. We did get some funding from the US Agency for International Development to help cover costs.
When we got there, we trained the electricians on staff how to run and terminate CAT5E cabling. We purchased the cabling, jacks and patch panels locally. Within a few weeks (and after a lot of drilling, the buildings are all cement/block) we had most of the compound cabled. As that none of the building are more that 200ft apart, we used copper for the gigabit uplinks.
The mission had a lot of donated old hardware sitting in storage, so we brainstormed how we could effectively use that equipment. We decided to use Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP), specifically the K12 LTSP distribution. LTSP allowed us to use the old computers as dumb terminals and rely on the server for all the processing horsepower. We also could ship over small thin client computers rather than full desktops when additional client are needed.
K12 LTSP included most of the applications they needed, mainly OpenOffice.org and Firefox. Paul Kist, a developer from New York, came out and built a custom web based electronic medical record application running on LAMP for them.
The web based application was key as they expanded to multiple sites, they setup up satellite internet connections and were able to update the database using a web browser across an SSL connection without any advanced configuration necessary.
As President Bush mentioned in his speech, the Hope Center (and affiliated Hospital) has seen substantial growth in the past three years, God willing we can continue to scale the technology infrastructure along with it.