Rural Washington District Goes Virtual
Richland (Wash.) School District No. 400, which has 15 schools, more than 11,000 students, and 1,400 employees, was challenged with an aging desktop infrastructure and limited financial resources from which to replace or replenish it. “Many of our machines were eight to 10 years old and running Windows 2000, which had reached its end of life,” says the district’s Executive Director of Information Technology Michael Leseberg.
Richland needed to upgrade or replace 350 teacher and staff computers, but wanted to roll out computers to every student, teacher, and staff member who needed one. At a cost of about $800 for each existing desktop or laptop, Leseberg estimated, that amounted to more than $250,000 annually. And he wanted to be able to upgrade or refresh equipment every five years. “There was no way we could sustain that,” he says.
So Leseberg started on the path to looking at virtualization solutions. After an “exhaustive” search, the district chose Citrix’ VDI, which allows software programs and operating systems to be based in the cloud. For hardware, Richland chose the Dell Wyze Xenith Zero Client for Citrix HDX thin clients. The upgrade has reduced the cost of each system to $265 apiece, a savings of $187,250, which has allowed Richland to provide equipment to more staff.
The new solution is also saving energy. “The thin clients have zero moving parts,” Leseberg explains. “There are no fans or hard drives, and they require just seven to 10 watts of power.” And, where computers were left running at night to allow for systemwide upgrades and patches, with everything housed at the server, the thin clients can be shut down when not in use.
Having all the applications and documents in the cloud also allows the Richland district to keep old legacy desktop and laptop computers as extras or back-ups if they choose, as well as run old operating systems.
Remote Access, BYOD Takes Hold
The installation took just a few weeks, Leseberg says. Systems integrator Ednetics placed an engineer on site to build the solution, while its Cisco partner installed the Cisco Unified Server System. “It took Ednetics about three months to program, just in time for the start of our 2009-2010 school year,” says Leseberg.
After three years of using VDI, about 4,500 thin clients have been distributed districtwide. “The labs, libraries, and student gathering areas were the low-hanging fruit,” says Leseberg. “We want to distribute the thin clients to all teachers and students.”
One problem that continuously cropped up early on was a surge of logons at the start of the school day, slowing the system down. To handle it, Richland replaced its original storage area network with a solid-state drive solution from Hitachi, which has improved the uptime to close to 100 percent on the first try. Now, computers launch within 10-15 seconds, he says.
Since the initial install, Richland has implemented Citrix’ secure gateway module to provide remote access for staff and students. Previously, he says, “teachers and other staff members would have to come into the offices or classrooms to use it. They no longer have to do that.” Students can access schoolwork remotely, as well.
The new system also facilitates a bring-your-own-device program, which Richland is getting ready to launch. “Most of our kids carry at least one device, some as many as three to four, and we want them to be able to access their work wherever they are: at lunch, outside … in a free period,” Leseberg says. “Also, they’re most comfortable with their own device, so there’s no learning curve for them, and we can leverage that.”
With just 20 percent of the teachers, libraries, and students having access to thin clients, Leseberg says his work is far from done. “It will take us another three to five years to get to 100 percent, but we will keep slowly rolling it out,” he adds.
The district has been asked to present their program at conferences over the past year and a half. “We’re ahead of the curve regarding virtualization implementations,” Leseberg concludes, “compared to other Washington state schools of similar size.”
Lynn Russo Whylly is newsletter/copy editor.