Shane DelMonaco Breaks Ground with Student-Built Webserver

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Shane DelMonaco stands alongside his custom-built webserver, the first he has constructed and the first student-built server in the state connected to a public domain. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson

 

Aside from his work with designing and building a solar-powered vehicle, freshman Shane DelMonaco has been deeply engaged in developing the infrastructure of the Calais school system’s online presence. Last year, DelMonaco built and launched the school system’s website as part of his work in Jon Bragdon’s class – something he is continuing to improve by leaps and bounds – while this year, he constructed his first webserver. The server, which will host the website for the Business Program’s Commons Store, is the first student-built one in the state to be connected to a public domain.

The server is the first of its kind that DelMonaco has constructed, and it has been a valuable learning experience. “I’ve always wanted to do it. I like the challenge and the safety aspect that comes with running your own server out of your own classroom,” DelMonaco said.

With the goal of building a server in mind, DelMonaco set about by reading a 2002 server manual and then scavenging for parts from around the school. He found a 2006-era computer that was previously used by the Student Council and began upgrading it, adding a 1 terabyte hard drive and 8 gigabytes of RAM, with student Kale Sapiel assisting in procuring the upgrades.

At that point, DelMonaco began installing Ubuntu, a Linux-based operating system. The process didn’t go entirely smoothly. With Linux, DelMonaco explained, “If you mess something up, it can be harder to fix, as opposed to Windows where you can just roll it back.” Establishing the server required a bit of trial and error, but after quite a few hours of work and testing, it became operational.

The webserver will act as a host for the Business Program’s Commons Store, a newly-opened in-school store that offers a variety of supplies and amenities to students and staff. “Students from Woodland, Shead, or Calais can order supplies from St. Croix Technical Center and have them delivered directly to them,” DelMonaco explained. “Next year, we’ll really start marketing it.” At present, the Commons website is up and running, but the merchandise isn’t listed yet. DelMonaco anticipates it will be ready by early September.

DelMonaco’s construction of the server and its connection to a public domain represents a state first, as Bragdon explained. “This server, which he built himself, is the first school webserver in the state of Maine to use a public URL rather than a school-based URL.”

The store facet of the website and the server's independent domain has enabled DelMonaco to explore another of his passions: online security. “I’ve always enjoyed working with security,” he said. “If you’re selling goods, people are going to enter their credit card and Paypal info into the website. You can’t go exposing their private data to hackers or crackers.” DelMonaco obtained an SSL certificate to improve the site’s security and programmed the site so that all visitors will be redirected through the more-secure HTTPS rather than HTTP. “That’s the part that really excites me,” DelMonaco said.

Next year, DelMonaco will be designing and building a new server system that will be ideally capable of hosting multiple websites for the school. Along with Sapiel, he also hopes to design an enclosed, heavily-secured system that would enable testing and experimentation with malware. Doing so would give him a better understanding of how malware works and what specific strands of it are capable of, both of which are facets necessary for securing public devices against cyberattacks.

“That’s probably number one in job demand right now,” Bragdon said. “What he’s learning and doing for the school is something that can be multiplied many fold.”

Regarding the school district website, which has accrued more than 17,000 hits since launching last December, DelMonaco has a few upgrades in mind. On behalf of the project, he worked with faculty advisors to apply for a grant that will enable a live stream switcher that can be utilized during school events, including sports games. The switcher will connect several cameras that can be independently controlled and tapped into by a single operator. “It will further the live streaming we set up this year by having multiple cameras set up so it plays like a TV show,” DelMonaco said.

DelMonaco also aims to integrate a service that will enable cancellations and delays to appear quickly on the school website, with a goal of making it among the first points of contact for students or parents wondering if a delay is planned. A faculty member with “immediate knowledge” of the school’s intentions will have access to the website to make the notification when appropriate.

“This is him running with his own intellectual passion,” Bragdon said. “My job is to just to make sure that he has the resources he needs to pursue it.”

 

DelMonaco has been greatly appreciative of the support he has received in the school system. “I think it’s important because most of this stuff wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t allowed to choose… You get a lot more from not only having teacher advice and input, but also being able to do trial and error with it.”