In the third part of this series I’m going to look at approaches to security around computers. I’m not going to be discussing backup strategies, much has been said about that on the blog already. Neither will I be talking about viruses, malware or account security. All of these are relevant to all users of computers but there are some practical considerations about using computers in educational settings which are particular to that group of users.
The physical computer hardware presents some interesting challenges, particularly if your studio is using Macs - and in my experience they overwhelmingly are using Macs. The “Cheesegrater” Mac Pro enclosure was a gift to educational studios, being physically large and lockable. HDX cards were secure and, provided you had a PCI slot free, you could pop out the blanking panel from the slot and poke a USB lead out, stashing the iLok safely inside the case.
Thankfully, in spite of Apple’s obsession with losing at least one valuable connector with each iteration, at least the current iMac has a slot for Kensington locks. The Trashcan Mac Pro can be secured by buying an aftermarket adapter but the solutions available for Macbook Pros aren’t very satisfactory and I have carried a combination lock style Kensington lock to secure my laptop when making live recordings for years. This is an option no longer available to me with a retina Macbook Pro.
Probably the highest risk items in a studio are the iLoks. As mentioned above, when using a “cheesegrater” Mac Pro there was the option of locking the iLok inside the case but with the increasing use of iMacs as studio machines (PC’s do of course offer a variety of cases but as noted above, In my experience the overwhelming majority of studios use Macs) there remains the issue of what to do with your iLoks. I have heard of systems where iLoks are issued at the beginning of sessions (not an attractive option to me) and there are various, often very expensive, third party iLok safes available. We had an excellent tip from the community on precisely this but my preferred solution to this was to buy steel cash boxes, screw them to the underside of the furniture and to run a USB cable through a slot cut in the box out to the computer. This solution works well for computer lab environments and multiple iLoks from multiple computers can be housed in a single cash box.
There are more elegant solutions available though. Recently Alan featured a product called Virtual Here. Using this product the iLok no longer needs to be located near to the computer it is licensing. With suitable hardware and some networking skill it would be simple enough to keep the iLok out of the studio altogether.
It's no secret that iLoks have their detractors but in educational settings, in spite of the risk of theft, I still prefer them to most of the alternatives. Systems which lock the license to a MAC address or other systems which licence to a specific machine can be cumbersome when scaled up to institutional use. With physical iLoks if a computer fails it is easy to image a new machine, plug in and go, especially as computers are often administered by IT departments with little specialist knowledge of audio software. For an excellent article from the community on how to install Pro Tools across multiple machines see this detailed series from 2014.
The fact that most software is licensed on a per-machine basis is a pity as it is inflexible in educational environments. Some software offers site licenses and this is a guaranteed way to get the most students in front of your software. Adobe and Apple have offered these kinds of deals for a long time and it really works. If the software is available on every machine in an institution it is inevitably going to get used and it makes it very difficult to argue a case for buying alternative software. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I actively dislike Logic but even I have taught using Logic just because the sessions I was teaching weren’t timetabled in a room with Pro Tools installed.
Licence Servers And Shareable Licences
The reality of timetabling in an institution and the compromises it invariably forces mean that a system which licences software on a per-computer basis is inappropriate. The best solution I’ve ever used was the license servers as implemented by Sibelius and Native Instruments. The Native Instruments system has been discontinued but the fact that Sibelius uses a licence server makes it all the more frustrating that, at present, Pro Tools is strictly a physical iLok product. Having a licence server means that licences can be leased to machines to meet demand and as long as the total simultaneous users doesn’t exceed the total number of available licences then all is well. This is exactly the system which best fits educational use and this system is already available within the PACE anti piracy system using Shareable Licences. I hope this is something Avid might adopt for Pro Tools soon.
Next time I’ll look at ways to manage users’ data on shared computers.