The processing speed, memory size and overall computing power of PC s have advanced at an exponential rate over the years, and the pace shows no signs of slowing. The result for many users—those in K12 schools in particular—is that the power of new computers is far greater than most require for the majority of applications. As a result, a number of desktop virtualization products have appeared in the last several years, which divide a single PC into multiple workstations. Users connect a monitor, keyboard and mouse to a hardware interface, called a "thin client" or "zero client," which is connected to a central computer. This setup expands the number of users while costing less, using less energy and requiring less maintenance than purchasing multiple individual computers.
This technology holds great appeal to school districts with limited resources, which continually face the challenge of providing computers for staff and students. Emerging trends include expanding this model on a larger scale to utilize servers instead of a central PC and installing unlimited numbers of thin clients in a school or district, or even further, using fully hosted Web-based resources and "cloud client" devices. The industry is also just beginning to embrace mobile technology, developing solutions that enable users to access their virtual PCs from smartphones or other mobile devices. Here are some of the many options to consider using in your district.
E01 Zero Client, $99
Wyse provides a variety of thin-client and zero-client computing solutions, including both hardware and software. Its E01 Zero Client is designed for the education market and specifically to utilize Microsoft's MultiPoint Server 2010 software, which has been developed to support PC sharing through virtual desktop products. The E01 connects to a central PC using only a USB cable, requiring no additional power supply. The unit includes a total of four USB connections for using peripherals such as webcams or flash drives, one VGA port for connecting a monitor, as well as a microphone input and an audio output for connecting speakers. www.wyse.com
L-, X- and U-Series, Pricing varies
NComputing offers virtualization software and a selection of access device hardware to suit a variety of configurations. These include the L-Series, which connects over Ethernet for PC sharing across a local network, the X-Series (pictured), which uses a PCI card installed in the host PC to connect multiple workstations and allow up to 11 users to use one PC, and the U-Series, which connects up to 9 workstations via USB cables to a host PC. NComputing has also just released Classroom in a Box, a hardware and software package designed for building a school computer lab. www.ncomputing.com
MultiSeat t100, Starts at $89
HP provides a variety of virtualization products for implementing the technology at the classroom, school or district levels, and is unique in that it manufactures all the necessary components, from thin clients to servers, monitors and keyboards. Its MultiSeat system uses Microsoft's MultiPoint Server software and is comprised of t100 thin clients (pictured) and HP's ms6000 desktops, specifically designed to be used as host PCs. Up to 10 users can share the host PC using individual t100s, which each consume just 2.5 watts of power. Each unit has one USB input, two PS/2 inputs for a keyboard and mouse, VGA and audio outputs and a microphone input. www.hp.com
Network Monitor, Pricing varies
LG Electronics, which designs PC monitors and other displays, now offers a model designed specifically for desktop virtualization, with a thin client built in. The monitors come as part of a package, along with a PCI card kit made by NComputing. Each Network Monitor has a port on the back that connects directly to the PCI card that is installed in the host PC, as well as connections for a keyboard and mouse, eliminating the need for any additional hardware. Each PCI card supports up to five users, and two cards can be installed on each host PC, resulting in up to 11 users for each. LG also offers an E Series product, which connects over an Ethernet connection and supports up to 31 users from each PC over a local network. networkmonitor.lge.com