By David Pendered
Buckhead resident John Alston is using assets of his start-up computer business to enable children with dyslexia to get the help they need at the Schenck School.
Alston’s dyslexic. He’s also a scion of a founder of the influential Atlanta-based law firm Alston & Bird.
Alston, 40, merged those two elements to create a personality bold enough to help Schenck update its computer system at the same time he’s busy developing his company, ClubDrive Systems.
“I’m grateful that we have a school like this in Atlanta,” said Alston, whose family sent him to boarding school in New England for help with his dyslexia. “The things that troubled me through my early school years can be addressed here at the Schenck School through the technology we have today.”
Computers are a substantial tool for teaching youngsters with dyslexia, said Gena Calloway, the head of school at Schenck, which is in Sandy Springs just north of Buckhead at Mount Paran and Powers Ferry roads. That’s partly because the students can focus on the message they want to communicate. Word-processing programs free them from anxieties over misspellings and grammatical errors.
“Their word processing is slow, and their handwriting is slow,” Calloway said. “If they write a story in longhand, they are concerned about spelling and punctuation. After they go through it with the teacher and fix the word reversals, they have to copy it over in longhand.
“Imagine the anxiety that creates. The computer removes all of that.”
Alston is providing Schenck 45 notebook computers and technology support at cost through ClubDrive. The money for the upgrade to the school’s current system is coming from a $50,000 challenge grant Alston helped provide through his family’s foundation, the John N. Goddard Foundation. Calloway led a fundraising drive that netted $62,000.
Alston’s start-up company provides an emerging version of cloud computing. All the data and processing systems reside off-site instead of on servers at the office or the memory boards of a notebook.
Users can tap into their custom-made office system anywhere they can access the internet. Inside the secure system, the computer screen has the appearance of any traditional system, as well as the computing capabilities of a traditional system, Alston said.
Sandra Gardiner, a partner in the corporate technology group at the Atlanta law firm of Morris, Manning & Martin, said that cloud approach is getting lots of attention because it lowers the cost of purchasing and maintaining a computer system.
“It’s a pay-as-you-go, pay-as-you-use model,” Gardiner said. “There’s real thought within companies that this can be a cost saver because you don’t need to make significant investments in technology, and your cost in human resources in (information technology) goes down.”
Gardiner said security concerns are being addressed to the satisfaction of companies that deal with sensitive information, such as those in the financial and pharmacological sectors. She noted that Genentech, a San Francisco-based biotech company, is moving some of its computing needs from an in-house system to services it will rent.
Cloud computing was an estimated $36 billion market last year, according to a December story in USA Today about Genentech’s move to Google. Google will provide e-mail and other services to Genentech’s 16,300 employees and contractors. Cloud computing represents 13 percent of global software sales and aims to challenge Microsoft and its competitors in the arena of business software.
ClubDrive (www.clubdrive.com) is affiliated with Citrix, Microsoft and Sophos. Alston is the CEO and brings 16 years’ experience in the computer field. He served most recently as chief information officer for One Georgia Bank. Nathan Kelley, the chief technology officer, brings 20 years’ experience. He previously served as the senior network engineer for the Teachers’ Retirement System of Georgia.
“This is a great time to start this company because, with the markets they way they are, people want to save money,” Alston said. “A small business is looking for every dollar they can hang on to. People are willing to take a meeting with me because they realize that I can save them money.”