Oakland arts school saves money, power with thin client architecture

The Oakland Science of Arts (OSA) located in downtown Oakland, CA serves 600 students and with a teaching and administrative staff of 75 employees offers a combination of a college- preparatory curriculum and a conservatory-style arts education.

Since its inception in 2002 as part of Mayor Jerry Brown’s downtown revitalization initiative, OSA has accepted difficult challenges in its mission to provide students with intensive pre-professional training in the arts while maintaining a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum.

“Students achieve best in an environment that is carefully balanced between a supportive infrastructure and collaboration among faculty, teachers, and administrators who are innovative in all areas of their work,” said Donn Harris, Executive and Artistic Director of OSA. Director of Technology David Smith and Harris hold the shared vision that providing students with access to high-quality computers will enhance the learning experience for both the academic and arts programs offered at OSA.When OSA first opened, the founding Director set the goal of providing computing resources to students 24 hours a day, and embarked on a program of issuing each student a personal laptop at the high school level. After four years, the program proved to be too costly in several ways. The school appreciated that laptops provided a very rich, mobile, desktop computing experience for the students. But due to associated costs, they made the decision to replace the laptops with an alternative computing solution.

IT director Smith considered cost of entry and cost of maintenance. He first considered installing PC desktops but given the configuration of OSA’s classrooms, there was limited physical space and power shortages. In addition, given that PC desktops would become obsolete overtime, requiring constant upkeep and maintenance, it became crucial for OSA to find a cost-effective solution that was efficient and would reduce technical support. After researching the available technologies, Smith proposed moving to a desktop virtualization model using thin access devices. This has resulted in a 60% reduction in the amount of time spent on maintenance repairs/asset transfers, and a 60% reduction in equipment and maintenance cost.

After extensive testing, OSA selected the NComputing L300 LAN- connected devices, which use a built-in, high performance video acceleration system that supports full screen motion video, higher screen resolutions, and USB peripheral ports for local connections. The L300s use the NComputing vSpace software to provide end users with their own personal desktop environments. The L300 also supports Windows MultiPoint Server 2011, a new Windows product that a taps in to the unused capacity from a single PC or server and simultaneously shares it with many users. Its interface is based upon Windows 7, so users can use familiar features like folders, Internet Explorer and Windows Search, and they can take advantage of some of the latest ones like “Snap” that improve navigation and focus managing multiple Windows. Multi-media capabilities have been enhanced so that teachers can easily broadcast files, videos or their own desktop, enabling them to engage their students and captivate their imaginations, all while keeping them focused and on task.

The first implementation of the combined L300 and Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 was in a 15-seat classroom dedicated to the Literary Arts and English Departments, providing a new ratio of one computing station to every two students. Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 Premium Edition was deployed as a virtual machine on the central server running Windows Server 2008 R2 with HyperV.

“The experience for the students has been effortless," commented Smith. "After 2 weeks, there were no cases of maintenance or repair reported, which typically in technology is a good thing.”

OSA has plans to deploy computer stations in each of the 21 academic classrooms, with future plans to expand to selected classrooms in the Arts program. Donn Harris has been impressed by the affordability, reduction in power usage and ease of maintenance the NComputing solution offered, leading to a cost savings of 40%.

Smith is looking forward to expanding his classroom involvement, estimating he could dedicate 20-30% of his time to training staff and students on creative ways in which class material can be taught through technology.