Oct 21 2013

Schools Improve Service Delivery with Unified Computing

District IT pros say integrated infrastructure offers a path to VDI and BYOD.

The Morgan County Charter School System in Madison, Ga., deployed a unified computing system to support virtual desktop infrastructure.

“We were at a point where we had to do a desktop refresh or go with VDI,” says Jay Cawley, director of technology for the district. “It just got too cumbersome with our small staff of two to manage all the endpoints.”

About three years ago, Morgan County became one of the first school districts to install FlexPod, says Cawley.  The configuration consists of VMware virtualization, servers and switches from Cisco Systems’ Unified Computing System and NetApp storage.

FlexPod was the logical choice for Morgan County because the district was already a NetApp customer and was using VMware for server virtualization. Deploying VMware View for VDI integrated well with the overall FlexPod environment.

Cawley says the unified computing implementation makes the district much more agile. For example, it used to take the IT staff two to three months to deploy new servers. Now, by spinning up virtual instances of servers, it can get applications up and running inside of a week. On the VDI front, the district can create virtual instances of client software to get it into the hands of students more cost effectively and run it on the devices students bring from home.

“We had a case last year in which a student had a notebook computer that lacked the video editing software required by one of the courses,” Cawley explains. “By installing a VMware View client, the student could log in to a virtual desktop and gain access to the software without having to pay for such an expensive application.”

Mark Bowker, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says the district’s deployment of what ESG calls an integrated computing platform makes sense. “Many of the organizations that deploy integrated computing platforms tend to do so to deploy specific applications, such as VDI,” Bowker says.

He adds that platforms such as FlexPod enable organizations to roll out applications more quickly and provide a single number to call for service.

Targeted Apps, Good Service

Charles King, manager of computer network services for Desert Sands Unified School District in La Quinta, Calif., says the district deployed two VCE Vblock systems — one for its Citrix Systems VDI software, the other to migrate legacy software to a virtual environment.

The vBlock system consists of VMware virtualization, Cisco UCS for servers and switches, and EMC storage. On the cost front, King says the district saved more than $100,000 by deploying the Vblock System to support the server software. He also expects the district to save more than $14,000 per year on its electric bill from consolidation, with additional savings to come once the server migration is completed next year.

36% The percentage of 2013 IT budgets allocated to new technology projects and purchases that deliver positive ROI and competitive advantage to the organization

SOURCE: “Market Landscape Reports: Integrated Computing Platforms” (Enterprise Strategy Group, June 2013)

“There is a significant commitment in materials and staff to roll out infrastructure,” King says. “The Vblock systems give us all the storage, servers and networking equipment in one easy-to-use interface.”

King says the unified computing platform eases software migration, too. For example, the district had a legacy server for its graphics services that supported 33 offices. Rather than extending its legacy infrastructure, the district’s enterprise specialist migrated the server to the virtual environment within Vblock in about an hour.

“Instead of having to spec out a server, put it online and configure the operating system, he could go from the physical to virtual environment in no time at all,” King says. “There’s no comparison.”

Having a single vendor streamlines technical support. “We can make one support call and get answers on each of the three subsystems in one call,” says King. “In the past, we’d need a service contract with the vendor or would have to hire an outside engineer.”

Four Advantages of Unified Computing Platforms

Mark Bowker, senior analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group, outlines four primary reasons that integrated infrastructure appeals to IT shops.

  • Improved management. Thanks to tools that automate many common IT tasks, unified computing transitions IT departments from administrators of component infrastructure to managers of holistic systems. That’s a major shift for many IT organizations. This integration helps IT departments reduce overhead, streamline daily operational tasks and improve long-term capacity planning.
  • Accelerated time-to-value. Thanks to the faster deployment of IT infrastructure, VMs and apps, integrated computing platforms get systems online faster and with less effort. IT management has recognized time-to-value as a primary return-on-investment metric for ICPs and uses this metric to help justify investments.
  • Increased user productivity. Faster time-to-market and improved reliability make end users more productive. Employee productivity isn't always easy for IT departments to measure, but Bowker says streamlined app deployment puts software into the hands of users faster.
  • Streamlined service and support. Troubleshooting and root-cause analysis of three separate infrastructure platforms can be time-consuming and a logistical nightmare. A single point of contact for deployment and tech support aids troubleshooting, crisis prevention and IT staff alignment.
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