Education

How the Cloud is Transforming Education

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School IT departments have generally been on the forefront when it comes to embracing new technologies, and teachers who also embrace the latest technologies can reap the benefits faster. The cloud has opened up their world, and technology is poised to finally deliver on its promise to transform education.

Assisting teachers

The cloud has reversed a disappointing trend for teachers. Previously, clunky hardware and failing technology meant wasted time and frustration – hindering rather than assisting them.

All that is changing as the cloud delivers a more flexible, responsive and less device-specific form of technology into the classroom, and the way information is stored, accessed, presented and managed is transformed. Coursework can be retrieved anytime, anywhere. But it’s more than just storage.

Education apps are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the tracking of individual student performance. In a context where there is a five or six-year difference between the most advanced and least-capable student in a classroom, distinguishing instruction is not only a worthy goal, but a practical necessity. And that's where cloud-based technology can help. Connected apps and services such as Mathletics and Duolingo allow students to work at their own pace and adjust the order and difficulty of tasks in line with their progress.

With such innovative data on students, teachers can make better informed decisions about the next steps in learning.

Improving student outcomes

Exercise books and textbooks are increasingly becoming relics. Cloud-based student learning management systems such as EdumateMoodleEdmodo and Blackboard are now staples in most schools across The United States and other countries. Their connectivity means students have access to the most up to date case studies instead of relying on textbooks, which quickly date and become unusable.

Cloud based applications like Microsoft Outlook and Google Docs allows students greater opportunities for collaboration, as documents can be edited simultaneously by multiple authors – including the teacher. This allows for more instant, targeted feedback.

Saving money

And perhaps the biggest impact the cloud can have on academics is the resolution of overstretched budgets. The security and maintenance of expensive infrastructure and internal servers are becoming redundant. Cloud-based storage services such as Amazon, Google and Office 365 provide huge amounts of space with the added benefit of the collective skill of world-class engineers to protect information.

Large upfront costs for software are also giving way to modest subscription fees for services that are continually improved and updated. And even better, many are free! The flexibility of these apps also means students no longer have to shell out big bucks for a laptop, with the ability to access many of the applications on their smartphones or tablets.

For initiative-fatigued teachers who are after a more convenient and efficient way to improve the teaching and learning cycle, a cloud solution from Current Technologies might just be the technological breakthrough they need to re-engage with technology.

We can make the Cloud work for you

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IT System Management for Academics

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Universities and other learning institutes have developed many different strategies for how they provide computing and infrastructure services to their users. For some schools, a cloud model makes both technical and financial sense as a way for the IT group to deliver applications and services effectively and efficiently. For others, well secured and backed up in-house hardware gets the job done, while most go with a combination of both.

Once upon a time, offering basic services—networking, clients, servers, and applications—was all that an academic IT group would ever be called on to provide. Now departments and schools are asked of a lot more from employees and students. If you’re tasked with meeting those expectations, the infrastructure you build must accomplish three things.

1. Break it down

Services, applications, and infrastructure should be broken into individual pieces and offered on that basis. That means:

  1. Supporting virtual servers to provide those services.

  2. Investing in software-defined networks that provision network capability that changes as rapidly as the demand for computing services from your users.

Thinking of your internet technology in smaller increments means thinking of your infrastructure in more complete terms—servers, storage, and networking, all under the control of software that can manage individual services and allocate resources on demand.

2. Add it up

Breaking up your service offerings into small pieces makes no sense if you continue to account for your internet technology in old ways. An out-of-band management style that breaks things up allows for the feeding data to accounting systems without adding traffic to the production network or servers. Out-of-band management also allows for users to still do what they need to even if your system experiences some unplanned downtime.

Between new services, security, and the avoidance of outages, the importance of out-of-band servers and network infrastructure increases dramatically. You'll want to specify systems (including transaction-ready storage) that can cope with changing demands.

3. Lock it down

Smaller computing units mean a greater number of points of potential intrusion. Security, then, becomes a service that is part of everything else you offer to internal customers.

Current-generation servers offer features that provide tremendous assistance in keeping data and resources safe. Regardless of whether the server CPUs are made by Intel or AMD, similar features allow administrators to:

  1. Explore the ways in which your target operating system (or hypervisor) makes use of these features.

  2. Ensure you have configured the operating system to take advantage of those features.

When you look to the cloud for a model, you add a bit of complexity to your IT operation, but you significantly increase the number of services you can provide and the quality of those services.

Modern academics and employees have built their expectations on cloud services. Make sure:

  1. Your hardware infrastructure is up to the task

  2. You've built the right software for management and accounting

Then you'll be ready to provide the kind of IT service that keeps researchers, academics, and students happy and productive

How can we help you help your students?

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The Right Data Storage For Your School

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A Datacenter Filled With Small Servers


As the economics of cloud computing continues to evolve, many school districts are asking whether moving their entire datacenters to the cloud is the best way to improve IT response and keep IT on budget. There are certainly advantages to some cloud services, and any modern educational IT infrastructure should contain some elements that are cloud-based. But there are also reasons to keep some IT functions local. For those, a datacenter furnished with multiple small servers can be the perfect answer.

Converged, Not Hyper-Converged

The arrival of converged systems means that educational IT professionals have an ideal answer for many applications. Notice that it's converged systems we're talking about and not hyper-converged systems.

The highly virtualized and automated operation of a hyper-converged system is perfect for organizations with rapidly changing load levels and requirements, but most educational IT systems value stability and regularity. For those characteristics, the overhead of the hyper-converged system is difficult to justify.

Converged systems have little additional overhead compared with separate components deployed around a datacenter and a host of benefits. Converged systems tend to reduce, rather than increase, the management load of an IT staff.

  • There are physical savings that come from putting as much as possible into a single rack enclosure

  • There is the assurance that all of the components are certified by the vendor to work together

Ultimately, the key to justifying and successfully deploying small servers in a district datacenter boils down to understanding the applications that prefer the local hosting treatment.

Examples of data that might benefit from staying on local servers rather than being transported to cloud servers include:

  • Sensitive personnel records

  • Student records with personal identification information left intact

  • Financial information

Where The Cloud Comes In

That is not to say there's no role for cloud services in the modern IT infrastructure. The secret is understanding which data can best be stored in the cloud and which needs to remain in the local datacenter.

The decision should be somewhat easier with a converged datacenter because an integrated hardware stack can be configured to more easily be deployed as part of a hybrid system with cloud services.

The networking piece of the converged stack is especially important to ensure that data is shared as part of a seamless process, rather than simply being passed off from one type of computing equipment to another.

From an economic standpoint, the self-hosted pieces of the infrastructure have an advantage in that the ongoing cost will be fixed over the life of the converged stack. That cost can be lower than many professionals anticipate because, for most districts, small servers will be sufficiently powerful to handle the applications and data sets required. Current Techhologies has found that when multiple small, on-site servers combined with the right cloud services, the result will be a secure, economical IT infrastructure that will handle school needs for years into the future.

We Can Build A Custom Hybrid Solution For You

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3 Keys to University Network Policies

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Tightening the reigns on your app and internet policies doesn’t mean restricting freedom. It's the only way to protect your institution's valuable research data and to preserve the privacy of staff and students.

Network security isn't only a concern for businesses and government. Recent US research from BitSight revealed that the education sector is a prime target for hackers, with nearly four times as much ransomware in its systems as the healthcare sector, and nearly nine times as much as the financial sector.

Universities and colleges make tempting targets not only because of the unique data they keep, but because misguided concerns over academic openness mean that so many still leave their gates wide open.

It’s time to take control

In a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) environment, you can’t control every potentially infected laptop and device being used around your campus. But you can, and should, control what they access through your servers.

In an academic environment, internet technology decision-makers (ITDMs) can find themselves facing resistance but it’s your responsibility to convince academics and administrators alike that beefing up security won’t compromise their ideals.

From financial information to research data, a university has many of the same assets as a business. So when it comes to security, you need to treat it like one. It’s also your responsibility to protect the personal information and intellectual property of staff and students, who will all be at risk if you don’t have the appropriate safeguards in place.

How to justify these restrictions

Website blocking is routinely justified in the US, Australia and many other countries to prevent malware, investment fraud, copyright infringement, terrorism and other malicious activity, so there’s plenty of precedent.

If you do find yourself needing to justify controlling access to suspicious websites, app downloads or file sharing through torrents or cloud lockers, the risk of malware should be reason enough.

Blocking or limiting the bandwidth available for file sharing will also reduce the illegal consumption of copyrighted materials on campus, which shows that your university respects the creators’ intellectual property.

Then there’s the practicality of preserving bandwidth. Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing consumes a lot of network resources, which slows things down for legitimate users. The same applies to streaming services and that other controversial culprit – pornography.

While universities don’t have the same excuse as high schools and public network – that they’re protecting children from seeing inappropriate content – the risk of illegal materials and viruses appearing on these sites is another justification for blocking access altogether.

How to block undesired websites

When choosing the method for restricting access to websites, you need to consider your department’s resources and budget.

Internet Protocol (IP) address blocking – the cheapest method, but also the least effective as IP addresses can be quickly changed.

Domain Name Server (DNS) blocking – permanently blocks access to undesired sites at only slightly more expense, though easily circumvented.

Uniform Resource Locator (URL) blocking – more precise, but requires the greatest investment of time and money to configure correctly.

When you’re surrounded by the best and brightest, there are always going to be people who can circumvent the restrictions you put in place by using a virtual private network (VPN) or more advanced techniques. The important thing is that you’re significantly reducing the risks and encouraging students to break bad habits.

With quality filters in place, you can make sure that legitimate websites and apps won’t be blocked by mistake, while protecting students, faculties and your institution alike.

Need help securing your network?

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How To Write An Award- Winning Grant Proposal

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Grants give teachers the opportunity to provide their students with technology they might not otherwise be able to afford. But it’s a competitive world where the winners take all, so it pays to be prepared.

1. Clarity

Before you do anything, you need to be clear on three things:

  1. The project for which you want funding. (It’s tempting to find grants first then suitable projects to match, but you’re unlikely to write a convincing application for a project you thought of on the fly.)
  2. The support of someone who ranks high enough to sign off on the application
  3. Your plan for the money — what is the need?

2. Every Application Needs A Need

Don’t wait till you find a suitable grant to write a compelling description of your need. Every grant is going to ask you to outline the problem, so you might as well have it ready.

What will clinch the winning application is the compelling nature of the need. Be clear about why this project is important to you and why you’re so excited it could happen thanks to the generosity of this grant funder.

Write out:

  • The evidence that supports the need — demographics, test scores, and even anecdotal evidence
  • The goals of the project — what will your students achieve if you’re able to buy the technology you need?
  • How will you measure success — what are the metrics? What tools will you use to capture them?
  • What exactly you need in the way of technology, people, and support

Having this already thought out means you can respond more quickly when you find a grant with an imminent deadline.

3. Be Meticulous

Don’t try to second guess what’s most important to the administrators of the grant. Give equal weight to every section and question unless directed otherwise. Assume they want a complete answer to everything they ask or they wouldn’t have asked it.

4. Be Clear

Extra credit will be awarded for concise applications that steer clear of unnecessary jargon. Don’t assume the people reviewing the grant are fellow educators. They could come from any walk of life.

5. Think Like A Teacher

What marks would you give a student who relied on unsupported assertions? “Some students can’t read” is weak. Describe the scale of the problem precisely.

6. It’s Not Really About The Technology

No grant funder wants students to have tablets, laptops, or whatever other technology you want to bring into the classroom. They want students to be able to read, to learn, to thrive, and to be prepared for life after school. The technology is the tool; it’s important to the application, but it’s not the outcome.

Make sure the students are the heroes of your application, not the technology.

Once You Get A Grant- Now The Fun Begins

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Is Your Network Ready For Student Demands?

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The Future Of Education Requires WiFi


Once upon a time, handheld calculators were the height of student technology. Now, students are coming to school with multiple devices, each trying hard to connect to the Internet through your campus network. Is your network up to the challenge?

Some student devices place a heavy load on the campus network when they're used to watch video content that makes up part of a classroom curriculum. Other devices won't make constant demands of the network but will be part of the steady drip of bandwidth that adds up to a significant overall network load.

Network Provision Affects Education Outcomes

Within the classroom walls, there are a couple basic network divisions that student devices can use. How you provision and manage them significantly impacts how successfully:

  • Teachers integrate student devices into the learning process
  • Each device can function as a network endpoint

1. The Cabled vs Cellular Networks

The cabled network and cellular data network are, in many ways, at opposite ends of the classroom use spectrum.

Cable connections will almost always go to devices owned and tightly controlled by the school. That use is so thoroughly presumed that the cabled network often skips one or more authentication steps required on the wireless network.

The cellular data network, on the other hand, will be used almost exclusively by student mobile devices. School network architects can use those facts to balance their network traffic to help all users have a better experience.

Keeping as many school-owned systems as possible on the cabled network means that the impact from student devices is minimized.

Shifting student devices to the cellular data network rather than the campus WiFi also reduces their impact on other users.

Network managers must decide whether that reduction is enough to justify allowing classroom material to be transmitted over the cellular network and, if so, whether the school should explore installing femtocell transceivers to encourage students to keep their devices off the school's WiFi network.

2. 2.4GHz vs 5GHz Protocols

A growing number of wireless mobile devices can take advantage of 5GHz WiFi protocols that are both faster and able to gracefully support more users. Pushing school-owned wireless devices to 5GHz channels makes the most of the spectrum, leaving the slower 2.4GHz band for older student-owned devices.

Student-owned devices are complicating life for school network managers, but a Current Technologies designed network plan for balancing traffic across all available network technologies can keep the student body’s mobile fleet from wreaking havoc on your computers. Our team specializes in taking your current system and making the most out of it or building you a totally new system to your exact specifications.

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2018-19 School Year Technology Checklist

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Making your list for the year ahead


In the ongoing cycle of the educational year, it’s buying season for primary and secondary schools. That means schools and school districts are looking at the technology available for students, faculty, and staff. Then, they’re trying to make decisions that will affect those users for the next three to five years (or more). What are the products that school IT staff should be considering, given the march of technology and the lessons learned in the last few years? Let’s take a look at the issues and technologies for each of the constituents that school IT must consider.

Security

For faculty, the key considerations are security and the ability to work successfully with a wide variety of instructional media. The first of these considerations is obvious because FERPA requires it. Student data must be kept secure. The challenging piece of this is, of course, that the data must also be accessible to faculty and authorized staff at a moments notice.

Look for multi-factor authentication built into hardware and graphics capabilities that make it possible to run virtual desktops. These simply eliminate many of the security issues around sensitive data. When it comes to things like student data, it is wise to talk with professionals. Current Technologies has been working with schools for 20+ years and keeping their data secure.

Wi-Fi

The more technology gets integrated into schools, the more bandwidth schools are going to need. Streaming videos, internet searches and an array of learning applications all require bandwidth. With a slow connection, it could take half of a period just for students to load what they need.

The recently released 802.11ac Wave 2 is providing schools with more than 6Mbps, which is a huge upgrade from 802.11ac. With more students bringing their own devices from home and teachers continually integrating more technology, bandwidth has to grow. 802.11ac Wave 2 has done that and can last long into the future. 

Device mix

Student workstations are changing as school systems revisit desktop and laptop computers.

Tablets will remain relevant, although many schools have found that without comprehensive lesson plans and dedicated support infrastructure, tablets don’t necessarily provide the desired results.

While some schools allow students to bring family-owned tablets, school-provided desktop computers are more rugged, more easily secured, and more capable than tablets.

Mobility

Staff members are among the computer users who are focused on mobility for their systems. Part of this is due to requirements that administrators and specialists take systems home to complete work.

Another consideration is on-campus (or between-campus) mobility to supervise multiple locations or functions within the school. For these employees, convertible systems that combine laptop and tablet functionality are gaining popularity, especially with the addition of FERPA-compliant mobile device management (MDM) software to ensure security.

Networking, device mix, mobility, and security are the primary hardware considerations driving changes in education systems. For educational IT specialists, specifications for these three should be part of any requirements list for this year’s shopping season.

What's On Your Shopping List?

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How Ransomware Is Invading Schools

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The Education Sector Is Under Attack


Every IT employee in the education sector is likely aware of the ransomware plague that has visited their colleagues in healthcare the last few years. Healthcare offers hackers rich pickings of personal and financial information—but so does the education sector, where there is the added bonus of valuable research and other types of information unique to the sector.

Recently, security firm BitSight reported that education, not healthcare, is in fact the most attacked industry. It found that 13% of educational organizations had been hacked—three times more than the rate of ransomware in healthcare and more than 10 times the rate in the financial sector.

This is contrary to the findings earlier in the year from Osterman Research which found far higher ransomware penetration rates in healthcare.

While first place might be in dispute, no one is arguing that ransomware is now a growing and expensive problem. Being in third place or even ninth place will be no consolation when the hackers strike. That’s especially true if you could have taken some simple precautions to stop the attack or limit the damage.

The Education Sector’s Special Problems With Ransomware

It’s difficult for K–12 schools to fend off attacks with small budgets and IT teams. And universities are environments where file sharing is an extreme sport, making ransomware a huge challenge for IT departments.

The hackers are after medical records, information they can use for identity theft, financial information, and research data. And many institutions are paying the ransoms, which won’t help the problem go away.

Ransomware is unique among cybercrime because in order for the attack to be successful, it requires the victim to become a willing accomplice after the fact
— James Scott- Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology

Protection is much Cheaper than Reaction

There are some simple things that you can do to shore up the defenses without incurring significant cost.

  1. Establish email security protocols—Email is where the attackers are most likely to get into your system, so take the chance to kill off as many prospective attacks as possible by just not letting the infected files through.
  2. Avoid file sharing—Ditto.
  3. Keep software up to date—Unpatched software is another way in so shut it down.
  4. Improve network hygiene by upgrading aging infrastructure to reduce your vulnerabilities.
  5. Have a diversified backup strategy—Use physical and cloud backups
  6. Segment the Wi-Fi—If possible, segment your Wi-Fi to keep staff, students, and guests on different networks.
  7. Educate employees—Most hackers get in through email phishing attacks. They need to know what good security looks like and where the dangers are coming from.
  8. Show file extensions—It’s harder to hide an exe file as a jpg when the user can see the full extension, and you’ve trained them to know the difference

Helping Keep Your Information Safe Would Be Our Pleasure!

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6 Steps To Secure Your School's IT Network

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Your School's IT Network is a Gold Mine for Hackers


The Open Security Foundation reports that 15% of all data breaches take place at educational institutions. When such attacks are successful, the consequences can be severe. Given the regularity of attacks on educational networks—and the harm they can cause when they’re successful—it’s vital that you make sure yours is as secure as possible. Here are five things you can do to make sure your school’s network is secure.

1. Use multiple defenses.

The key to a secure network is a comprehensive approach that takes into account all possible points of entry. It’s not enough to have one anti-virus program, or to encrypt only some sensitive information. Combining multiple security measures will provide the best possible defense for your valuable data.

2. Update. Update again. Then check for new updates.

According to a report by Symantec and Verizon, nearly one million online bugs are introduced per day. It's little wonder then that anti-virus programs require frequent updates to remain effective. Neglecting these updates increases your vulnerability to costly and time-consuming infections. Current Technologies recommends automating them whenever possible. You must also take care to download security patches for your browsers and operating systems as they become available.

3. Control network access.

Using network administration software, you can restrict user access to information. Apply "the principle of least privilege" and ensure users can only access the information they need. This will allow you to reduce access to sensitive information while ensuring that everybody can still do their job.  

4. Back up everything.

It’s inevitable that you’ll hear stories of students at your school losing nearly finished assignments because of a power outage or a flash flood. Don’t make the same mistake—back up everything you can, preferably in a secure, off-site location. That way, in the event of a security breach (or a natural disaster), you don’t have to worry about extensive data loss.

5. Encrypt sensitive information and use strong passwords.

Finally, it’s prudent to encrypt sensitive information whenever it’s not being used. In the unfortunate event that your school falls prey to a successful cyberattack, you’ll at least have the consolation of knowing that your files were useless to the perpetrators.

The maintenance of a secure school IT network requires you to ensure that it’s kept up-to-date and that the people managing it are following best-practice security protocols.

6. Password Management

In April this year, hackers were able to infiltrate the network of a New Jersey school, steal critical network files, and demand $125,000 for their release, all because of a single weak password.

So make sure that your school’s network administrators are using unique passwords or a suitable password manager app. You can also consider implementing multiple factor authentication (MFA), which requires both a password and a second authorization code—sometimes a secret question, sometimes a code sent to a registered mobile phone.

Don't Let Your Institution Be Another Case Study

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Making Tomorrow's Classroom Today

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Creating the Right Network Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s Digital Learners


Changes in how teachers use technology to reach students is causing network administrators to reconsider the way they think about network bandwidth, and these changes are speeding up hardware refresh cycles. Are you ready?

Two huge factors are driving these rapid changes in educational networking:

  1. The way that faculty members are using media to reach students
  2. The number of devices each student brings on campus

The changes will require network administrators to rethink their network bandwidth situation.

Teacher's and student's need for more network bandwidth is placing some institutions in a tricky spot, especially if wireless access points were just upgraded two or three years ago. However, the new upgrade is one that will meet school’s needs well into the future.

Video Drives the Network

Everyone wants their YouTube and cat videos. And in class, professors are not projecting video onto a central screen. They are giving students a URL to watch the video on their personal devices. The class is now responsible for 20 - 200 network streams instead of one.

That and students constantly checking for mail and social media updates mean a dramatic increase in the bandwidth required to each classroom, and to the campus as a whole.

New WiFi to the Rescue

The good news is that a new wireless networking standard, 802.11ac Wave 2 has now entered the field. 802.11n Wave 1, the highly successful predecessor to Wave 2, could provide bandwidth of more than 700 Mbps. Access points for 802.11ac Wave 2 can provide up to 7 gigabits per second of speed. It can also provide that high-speed access to some devices while providing lower speeds to older clients. The whole network does not slow down when old devices are present.

802.11ac Wave 2, which was certified by the WiFi Alliance and rolled out late 2016 solves many wireless issues but creates a need for a faster and more robust backbone. Current Technologies is partnered with Aruba Networks, Cisco Systems, and Aerohive Networks to customize a  wireless access system using the most up-to-date technology that delivers superb WiFi performance.

New Wireless Means new Wires

Most campuses have gigabit ethernet supplying their access points. Obviously, 7-gigabit access points need more than one gigabit Ethernet, so some campuses have begun dropping 10-gigabit lines to their APs. Also, these faster APs require Power Over Ethernet+, which may involve new injectors or Ethernet switches. These are not small costs because they involve changing physical infrastructure in existing structures.

Moving to 802.11ac is not like the move from 802.11a to 802.11n. The new move is a significant upgrade to the infrastructure.

We Can Help With The Transition

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We need to embrace technology to make learning more engaging. Because when students are engaged and interested, that is when learning takes place.
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