South Bromsgrove High School taps VDI-in-a-Box for start to major plans
South Bromsgrove High School in Worcestershire is one of England’s designated Technology Colleges. In 2007, the facility was completely rebuilt to provide the best possible learning environment for its students and teachers, who are immersed in a curriculum of technology, mathematics and science.
The challenge: update 1,200 devices with a reduced budget and a staff of four
Like schools in many parts of the world, South Bromsgrove has lost funding from the government that would have been used for maintaining and upgrading the technology available to students. For example, many computers were reaching the end of their useful lives, and Network Manager Janet Lines was faced with a difficult choice due to her limited budget.
“We have just over 1,200 laptops and PCs. We want to maintain the same amount of IT equipment that we’ve got but we don’t have the money to replace it, so we’ve had to look at alternatives. We were looking for something that would enhance the lifespan of our desktops and also keep us on the leading edge of technology. We’ve got Windows XP on the computers, which won’t be supported forever, so we needed a way to upgrade to Windows 7 – without a hardware refresh.”
In addition, Janet Lines sought a solution that would help her team of three people manage this large network efficiently. “My policy is if something is broken, it gets fixed. It doesn’t sit there with a sign on it saying ‘broken, do not use.’ That’s not allowed — ever.”
In Janet Lines’ experience, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology was complicated and expensive, especially when replacing an existing solution. “If you’re starting from the point where we were, scratch is the wrong place to start. We needed to make sure that whatever solution we chose for replacing these computers is on a par regarding performance and user experience as what we have had before,” she said.
“So, we looked at how we could actually implement virtual desktops over the next four years, our time frame for refreshing our whole PC estate. We looked at various different scenarios and we visited many, many other schools that had implemented traditional VDI solutions.
Implementing VDI-in-a-Box for secure virtual desktop access
“As soon as we looked at VDI-in-a-Box and started playing with it, we just fell in love with it,” Janet Lines admitted. “What caught our imagination was the fact that you could actually play with it before you bought it; whereas the other solutions you have no way of actually trying it out in your school or your business.” After the trial, her small team felt confident enough to deploy their virtual desktops themselves.
“We were really, really impressed with the fact that we could set it up ourselves. It was relatively easy and took very little time.” Another attraction of the solution was the ability to roll back to an earlier image if needed. Later in the process, in fact, one application to be supported on Windows® 7 had an issue and the school had to roll back to Windows XP® with VDI until the application vendor could fix the problem.
Citrix® VDI-in-a-Box™ is an easy, affordable, all-in-one solution that makes the benefits of desktop virtualization available to every organization. Running on off-the-shelf servers, the solution enables IT to deliver centrally managed virtual desktops to any user, on any device—all for less than the cost of PCs.The school began its VDI implementation using some new thin clients as well as existing computers. They purchased 10Zig “VDI-in-a-Box’-ready” Linux® thin clients for a simple plug-and-play setup. The thin clients are located at 15 stations in a dedicated classroom, as well as clustered in an open area of the school for drop-in use. Mounting the small thin clients on the backs of the monitors keeps the area tidy and limits potential equipment damage.
The remaining VDI-in-a-Box licenses were installed on existing PCs in four math classrooms.
Headache-free software upgrades across the network
“The nice thing about VDI-in-a-Box is that once you have created a Windows golden image, it is as easy to roll out to a hundred computers as to just one,” Janet Lines said. Since she rolled out VDI, even her “most persnickety” users don’t seem to have noticed that they’re using anything different than before. “That’s a positive result.”
As mentioned earlier, the school did run into one small glitch in their implementation after discovering that its security software, Ranger, did not support Windows 7. South Bromsgrove have had to delay the Windows 7 rollout until an upgrade is available for Ranger. But “We actually have a Windows 7 version of our virtual desktops just waiting in the sidelines ready to roll. We’ll just change it from Windows XP to Windows 7 and it’s done; we don’t even need to touch the individual machines.”
In contrast, when they are ready to upgrade the remaining 600 or so computers that aren’t yet running virtual desktops, Janet Lines and her team will have to “visit each PC individually” to install Windows 7 on each machine.
The same scenario will apply to applications. “We’ve just bought the brand new version of multimedia Science School. For the virtual desktops it’s going to be an absolute piece of cake to set up. But we’re going to have to reimage the other desktops.”
Janet Lines has big plans for the future of virtual desktops at South Bromsgrove. “We want to start small with VDI to get to know the technology and see the benefits, but I have a four-year rolling program to increase the number of virtual desktops.”
She will also deploy virtual desktops for other use cases. Remote access for students who can’t come to school in person is a possibility. In addition, the solution could address security rules that do not allow students to use their own laptops at school, “With VDI-in-a-Box, what we’re hoping to do is set up a guest network for them to access a virtual desktop on their own computers.
We have a duty of care to our students and we want to make sure that they stay safe when they’re using the network in school.”