Mobile Computing

How Virtualization Makes BYOD Better

Educational IT leaders should not be “trying to do the same thing you’ve always done for less money,” but instead “doing something you can’t do any other way,” according to Doug Meade, the director of information technology at York County School Division (VA).

In a session at the Citrix Synergy conference in Orlando, FL, Meade described how York County (which serves 12,700 students and 2,000 employees), was faced with a familiar problem. The district had been operating on a long hardware refresh cycle (which sometimes stretched to 11 years), leaving it with old, outdated equipment running a variety of operating systems and a hodgepodge of plug-in updates.

Teachers had notebooks with local applications, but for security reasons they were not allowed to take their computers home or add software to them. This meant moving files with “lots of USB drives,” said Meade. In short, “Our teachers were clamoring to get to their stuff wherever they were.”

The district then implemented XenDesktop and NetScaler to help it provide “software on demand.” In York County today, students and teachers have anywhere, anytime access to applications, a virtual desktop and printers. Meade said, “Software is baked in to the image, streamed and hosted.” It’s also updated far more often than it was. Before virtualization, the district updated software on 14 percent of its computers once a year. It now updates software on 95 percent of its computers four times a year.

The move to a virtual environment has also had a major impact on how the district thinks about hardware. “With virtualization, BYOD is a real alternative to a 1-to-1 initiative,” Meade said. “Families replace this technology more often than we can.”

The district also has no need for specialized computers to run graphics-intensive software. As Meade put it, “You can run Photoshop on a smartphone.”

He also pointed out that schools now have more autonomy when it comes to choosing their own computers. He said he tells them, “ ‘You can buy anything you want. You’re just going to consider it BYOD.’ ” And every computer the district buys now has two separate images installed: one for regular instruction, and one for testing only.

Meade also shared examples of how BYOD and virtualized software can keep students and teachers working when their physical workspace is unavailable. In one instance, a major construction delay meant that students were moved from one school to another. The school under construction kept its server room open, and its students could access all their data and apps from their temporary school. In another, a hurricane knocked out power in five schools the week before school, but because of York’s flexible software infrastructure, teachers could go to any school that had power and do their work.

The teachers seem to appreciate the change. Meade recently did a survey, and 74 percent of teachers said that the virtual desktop infrastructure makes their life easier. Perhaps more importantly, 65 percent said that VDI improves the way they teach.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.

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