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Indiana charter schools save big with virtualization

The GEO Foundation, the major supporter of charter schools in Indiana (as well as Colorado) announced today that it was adopting virtualization technology to save money and resources and to deliver 1:1 solutions to students in its schools. In a press release today, the Foundation notedCitrix XenDesktop™ helped the GEO Foundation to centralize their computing functions and drive down associated costs.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

The GEO Foundation, the major supporter of charter schools in Indiana (as well as Colorado) announced today that it was adopting virtualization technology to save money and resources and to deliver 1:1 solutions to students in its schools. In a press release today, the Foundation noted

Citrix XenDesktop™ helped the GEO Foundation to centralize their computing functions and drive down associated costs. In addition, Citrix allowed GEO Foundation to deploy thin client workstations – desktops and laptops that access all software and data directly from the datacenter. Thin client computers cost less, last longer and draw less power than traditional desktops. Due to the initial cost savings of the infrastructure upgrade project, the organization can now provide their students with the academic computing ideal: a one-to-one, computer-to-student ratio. Before the upgrade project, the GEO Foundation could afford only one computer for every four students.

While XenDesktop is hardly the only virtualization game in town, it does allow for very simple application deployments particularly well-suited to schools. Logged in as a student? Then you'll have access to a web browser and productivity software. Logged in as a teacher? Then you'll have the web browser, SIS, Office, and helpdesk software (for example). Users never even need to see a Windows interface or have access to system settings - they simply get the applications they need.

Again, according to the press release,

“When we began this project, we had no idea that we were going to enable some classrooms to provide every student their own computer – something that is nearly unheard of,” said Kevin Teasley, president and CEO, GEO Foundation. “In this scenario, a back-end server room technology directly translated into more technology in the hands of students. It’s quite an amazing story.”

The Foundation also partnered with Scale Computing to cost-effectively address the really significant storage needs associated with this type of virtualization deployment. In their analysis of available technologies, the Foundation felt that this was the tipping point at which cost of acquisition was most quickly outweighed by total cost of ownership, making virtualization a superior solution in terms of cost to simply refreshing desktop computers.

Scale’s ICS technology provides storage clusters that can grow seamlessly from as little as three terabytes (TB) to more than 2.2 petabytes (PB), in increments as small as one TB at a time. This gives the GEO Foundation the ability to scale their storage solution as needed by simply plugging in another node without compromising network speed.

Although technologies that we more traditionally associate with 1:1 (student laptops, netbooks, MIDs, etc.) are getting cheaper, from a management perspective, a virtualized solution makes a lot of sense. Thin clients in the classroom and easy access to the virtualized applications from a student's own home computer via the web extends learning, minimizes management concerns, and can maximize a school's return on investment. This isn't to say that schools shouldn't invest in 1:1 devices, but neither should they ignore cost-effective ways to simply provide significant computing resources to students and staff through virtualization and thin clients.

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