Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Taking the Plunge: Virtual Computing Can Take Some Getting Used to. Three Districts That Have Made the Leap from Conventional Desktop PCs Offer Firsthand Advice

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Taking the Plunge: Virtual Computing Can Take Some Getting Used to. Three Districts That Have Made the Leap from Conventional Desktop PCs Offer Firsthand Advice

Article excerpt

NO ONE LIKES CHANGE, especially if it means leaving behind the comfortable trappings of traditional desktop computing for a lean, alien virtualized environment. It's a move that requires taking leave from the status quo and shedding everything familiar to you about IT to make room for a great unknown.

We spoke with three districts that have made the conversion to virtual computing to learn about their experiences: What prompted them to make the move, and what were their objectives? Which obstacles prove most challenging, and would they do anything differently in hindsight? Find out the answers along with other important observations, tips, and caveats from the technology leaders who were out in front of these decisive moves into desktop computing's new frontier.

CASE HISTORY

Who: Byron Union School District

What: Deployed 600 Wyse thin clients

When: 2009

Why: To put computers in every classroom

When Byron Union School District's then superintendent announced last year that he wanted to put technology in the hands of his nearly 1,700 students by installing four computers in every classroom and creating four labs housing 36 computers each. Willie Marlin, network and student data technician, realized that tile most cost-effective and time-efficient way to carry out the mandate was to go virtual.

Marlin went on a search for the right virtual solution to replace tile hodgepodge of PC's the small, northern California district had collected over tile years, all running different versions of the Windows operating system and many of which simply did not function. "I had teachers who would say. 'Sometimes we go in to tile computer lab and we have a group of kids around one computer, because that's all we call get to work,'" Marlin says.

In researching his options, he determined that cost could not be tile end-all consideration. "The whole context of saving money sometimes burdens a school." he says. "Saving money doesn't necessarily give you the best products."

Or the best service, he found. Other vendors were offering big price cuts on certain thin client solutions, but only on discontinued product lines they would not be supporting going forward, which would be a problem for Marlin, a one-man IT team. Marlin settled on Wyse Technology, a San Jose, CA-based provider whose long-term support he felt outweighed the cost savings offered by the competing vendors.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Wyse has been in the industry for a remarkable number of years," Marlin says. "It has been doing thin client setups overseas forever."

In the summer of 2009, Marlin deployed 600 of the company's thin client units. He knew it would be important to ease the load of the virtual computing environment on the district's local area network (LAN), so he installed three VMware ESX host servers in each of the district's buildings rather than rely on a central data center to handle all of the traffic. Those host servers run the thin clients locally at each site and only communicate with the district's main connection broker via Microsoft's Active Directory once per session.

"The only thing that's coming across my LAN is the authentication that occurs at log-on," Marlin says. "Once the authentication hits, it replicates back to the servers at the site and the connection becomes local. The local server populates the desktop. And I can manage everything through a VMware View Client from the computer in my office. Whatever changes I make through the View Client replicate over to the VDI [Virtual Desktop Infrastructure] and then pass through the connection broker for delivery to the local servers. I can manage all 600 Wyse units and all 1,800 Active Directory accounts from my computer--physical or virtual--using RDP [Remote Desktop Protocol]."

Marlin got a nice assist from his district's decision to contract IT consultant ENS to oversee the transition to virtualization. …

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