Most school districts today look to put educational resources in students' hands at the lowest cost. That's why California's Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) chose thin clients.
According to Peter Sonksen, technology coordinator for the eight-school district, the startup costs for a 500-seat deployment essentially equaled the cost of purchasing the same number of desktop computers. "With traditional computer costs going up, we started exploring alternatives that would provide our 4,100 students with the same look and feel without the same cost," he explains. "With thin clients, our return on investment is much better — we're anticipating at least twice the lifespan."
Sonksen and his three-person team began their transition to virtualized clients with some research. After reviewing their options, they built a solution that includes HP t5570e thin clients and Wyse P20 zero clients; an HP blade server enclosure that can hold up to 16 blades; VMware ESXi 5.x, a component of VMware's View/vSphere bundle and the base environment in which the virtual machines run; and Nimble Storage's CS220 storage area network array.
"The HP blade chassis has proved to be an incredibly simple-to-use system that we have been able to upgrade easily to meet our growing needs," Sonksen says. "VMware offers us a simple, secure way of linking our blade systems with our iSCSI storage. Being new to this type of infrastructure, we wanted something that worked and would be easy to back up and maintain. Our new system has achieved what we set out to accomplish."
Many of the manufacturer quotes LUSD fielded included installation costs, but the IT team decided it was more efficient to install the servers and back-end gear themselves. "It took about a week or two to perform the initial installation in our district office," Sonksen says of the rollout, which began this past February. "It was intuitive and very easy to manage from a technical standpoint."
Every classroom now has at least three to five thin clients available to students and teachers. "It's been working very well," Sonksen says of the VDI environment. "We've noticed greater use of online educational resources, and students are staying on task, as there are more computers available to access those resources districtwide," he says.
To date, the virtualized approach has saved the district $40,000 in maintenance and staffing costs. "We're anticipating more than $100,000 in annual staff and computer support and replacement savings over a five-year span, compared to what we would have spent if we had deployed traditional computers," Sonksen explains. — Victor Rivero
"We started looking seriously at thin client technologies when funding to replace PC hardware dried up. This approach greatly extends the life of hardware and allows us to focus limited budgetary funds on other pressing needs."
— Fred Baker, Technology Director, Coos Bay School District, Coos Bay, Ore.
"We changed all of our PC labs over to thin clients — 1,500 of them — three years ago. They are easy to set up and awesome to maintain."
— Nicole Losito, Network and Systems Technician, North Babylon School District, Babylon, N.Y.
"We only have four technicians to manage more than 5,000 devices. But they never need to leave the office to refresh or reimage our 400 thin clients, which has reduced the number of help desk calls. We save about 90 percent of our energy costs versus having full desktops."
— Todd Freer, Supervisor of Technology Services, Woodland Joint Unified School District, Woodland, Calif.