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2 Universities Adopt Client Virtualization

Two institutions--the University of Arizona in Tucson and Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO--have gone public with their adoptions of client machine virtualization and thin client technology from Wyse Technology.

The Residence Life Department at the Arizona campus adopted Wyse equipment in 2006 to replace PCs for its staff, which has the job of managing 22 residence halls housing 6,000 students.

According to Dimitri Petropolis, principal systems administrator for the Residence Life Department, the move to thin client computing has eliminated many of the security problems that existed with the former setup. "When I joined Residence Life the laptops installed at the front desks were unlocked, virus-ridden, and immensely troublesome," Petropolis said. "It's not surprising given that they had few security controls in place and were being shared by multiple users. Nearly 200 different users shared these machines. They were a mess."

The IT group created a computing infrastructure that allows for the deployment of thin clients. Client virtualization allows for multiple user sessions to be executed on one server and for applications to be managed via the server infrastructure.

Now, virtual clients are used at the front desks, in conference rooms, and by the department's software developers.

"From an end user perspective, everything's the same," Petropolis said. "But from an IT perspective, the savings are monumental. We're not replacing PCs every two to three years and I'm not worried about laptops being stolen, because the thin clients don't store any information [and] they have no inherent value. As a result, I can guarantee a level of security to my staff and the university at large. For IT and administration purposes, the Wyse thin clients have been a godsend."

Rockhurst U recently switched from PCs in its student labs to thin client devices from Wyse. Previously, Rockhurst replaced half of its PCs in one year, half the next, and then repeated the cycle. Each cycle would take 75 percent of its IT budget for that year. The IT team sought options that would reduce expenses and contribute to the university's efforts to minimize its carbon footprint.

"We wanted to provide our students and faculty excellent computing services while cutting the costs of maintaining PCs and conserving energy," said Network Analyst Michael Stanclift. "We believed that thin clients could be the solution on both economic and environmental fronts." He said the university began thinking about virtualizing the desktop machines after implementing VMware ESX and seeing the benefits of virtualization within its server environment.

"We considered switching only a few labs to thin clients to start," he added. "We ultimately decided that from a financial standpoint and in the spirit of keeping standardization in the labs, we would take the leap and replace them all at one time. We knew that thin clients could save us in hardware costs, refresh, installation, and energy. The prediction that we'd save 80 percent of our energy costs sealed the deal with everyone who had to approve the project, so we got the green light to proceed with a complete cut-over."

The deployment of 230 Wyse virtual clients across 18 labs was done over the summer vacation and cost $155,000 for hardware, software, licensing, and three years of support. The implementation is expected to last for six years or longer and reduce staff time dedicated to refresh cycles by nine weeks over that six-year period. Over a 12-year period, with the lower refresh rate of virtual clients, the university expects to save $245,000 in hardware.

"Our virtual client implementation has achieved its goals and exceeded our expectations," Stanclift said. Virtual clients helped us meet our students' needs by delivering greater availability, quieter working conditions, and reducing our environmental impact. At the same time, virtual clients freed our IT staff to do more innovative work and saved us money on PC hardware and maintenance."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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