School District Solves Outdated PCs, Budget Cut Problems with Desktop Virtualization

By Chris Talbot  |  Print this article Print

CASE STUDY: Everybody is tasked with doing more with less these days, but for a school district with 2,500 out-of-date PCs and budget cuts looming, IT solution provider Presidio had to get creative with the solution. Here's how they did it.

Doing more with less is a challenge for every IT department, but for the organization facing a huge budget cut while being forced to continue operating with 2,500 out-of-date PCs, there’s an even greater challenge to overcome. This scenario was put in front of Presidio, a Greenbelt, Maryland-based solutions provider with offices and staff around the country, when it was approached by Tyler Independent School District of Tyler, Texas.

Tyler’s goal was to put in place an infrastructure capable of taking it through the next several years. With an aging Dell solution and a four-to-one ratio of users (including students and staff) to computers, Tyler’s computing needs were well beyond the capabilities of the hardware deployed across the various schools under its care. To make matters worse, the IT budget cuts it was facing meant it really was going to have to do more with less. IT projects across the board were being put on the back-burner, but for Tyler, a complete refresh was in order if it was to offer the kinds of multimedia capabilities and applications it required.

According to Steve Kaplan, vice president of data center virtualization practice and cloud computing at Presidio, Tyler had several challenges it needed to solve. Budget cuts, too many students for the number of PCs available, many computers more than eight years old, an inability to migrate to Windows 7 or even run modern applications, as well as high management and security costs were making it an increasingly greater challenge to operate efficiently and effectively.

The solution was to switch to a virtual desktop environment. A Cisco Gold partner with more than 1,800 IT staff across the country, Presidio was vying with another solutions provider for the business, and what helped to win Tyler’s trust was the return on investment it was able to demonstrate to the district’s superintendent. With a VCE Vblock-based deployment, Presidio demonstrated potential significant cost savings to the school district, and even though IT projects had been put on hold, the Presidio project was given the green light because of the projected ROI, Kaplan explained.

Kaplan noted that Presidio projected the $1.9 million project to quickly provide operating savings of $687,000. He added that Tyler saved almost $400,000 up front from operational expenditure savings alone.

"They were in a situation where they were going to have to buy a significant number of desktops, so status quo for them was going to be very expensive just due to the age of their fleet of PCs," said Mark Vaughn, the Presidio architect who designed the Tyler solution. "We were able to show them a very good ROI, showing them the significant savings, but also enabling them to take the older PCs that may have had a year or two left in their life that were not keeping up with technology very well and breathe new life even into those older PCs."

Using technology that’s part of VCE Vblock, including Cisco UCS, EMC storage and VMware virtualization capabilities, Presidio designed an infrastructure that would provide a virtual desktop environment for the students, in part solving the problem of having too few PCs per user. With a virtual desktop environment, students and staff are able to log onto any PC within the four walls of their schools and bring up their own desktop and files. For the tech-savvy students coming up through Tyler’s educational system, this enabled them to gain accept to multimedia and new applications that they may have been used to using at home but had previously been unable to use at school.

According to Vaughn, Tyler Independent School District was planning for multimedia applications to become an important element of classroom work. With an upgrade to Windows 7 and the deployment of a virtual desktop infrastructure, Tyler’s technology became centralized because of the Vblock and enabled the district to get some extra life out of its aging fleet of PCs, he said.

An additional challenge had to overcome. The entire project, from delivery of the products to launch, had to be conducted between the end of June when school let out for the summer and August when the students were about to return, Vaughn explained. Although small changes and tweaks to the system could be made during the school year, it was critical to get the deployment up and running within the confines of the summer vacation.

The solution consisted of three racks’ worth of equipment with the Vblock appliance, 32 Cisco UCS blades, approximately 20TB of EMC storage and Cisco networking infrastructure. Deployment was quick, Vaughn said. The hardware arrived just after 2:00 within a few days after the school year ended, and the racks and hardware were set up and connected less than four hours later.

The first power on didn’t happen until the next morning. Seeing as it was the middle of summer in Texas, the equipment was hot when it arrived, and it needed to sit overnight to acclimate to the data center’s temperatures and ensure no moisture would get in.

Since the initial deployment, Tyler’s IT department has seen their trouble ticket numbers drop dramatically. According to Vaughn, the beginning of the school year keeps the IT professionals busy with password resets and reminders, but the new system automated password resets. In the end, there were only a handful of students and teachers that needed their passwords reset manually.

With only a small number of IT staff serving the entire school district, the changes have not only provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating costs, but it has also enabled the IT department to focus less on break/fix problems and more on adding value to the data center, Vaughn said.