Rhode Island District saves money, time and space with zero-client software

The Westerly Public School District in Rhode Island is a progressive K-12 school system with a total of seven schools serving more than 3,300 students. The main data center at the high school houses three Dell R900 servers, which are used in production, and two Dell 2950s, which are used for desktop virtualization. To maximize efficiency, Westerly has deployed 35 virtual machines on these two servers.

The school district IT staff supports from one to five desktop PCs in every classroom, as well as computer labs throughout the district. Faced with supporting large numbers of aging desktop computers and having to transform traditional classrooms not equipped for heavy electronic use into computer labs, Westerly began looking for a solution.

“In K-12, IT staffing can be a huge issue for us because each tech is responsible for supporting around 650 PCs. This isn’t a formula for success,” said Mark Lamson, director of technology for the Westerly Public School District. Electrical distribution and space are also issues, Lamson added.

Venturing Into Virtualization

Westerly had been familiar with virtualization since 2005 when it started using VMware Workstation in the IT department. In August 2008, the district deployed VMware servers into production and achieved a consolidation ratio of over 10 to 1. Around this time, Lamson attended VMworld 2007, where he heard about desktop virtualization and realized that would be the next step for their IT shop. “I knew we had to get out of the PC business,” said Lamson.

David Siles, VMware Certified Professional, first introduced Lamson to Pano Logic and as he investigated the product, he liked what he saw. Westerly selected Pano Logic, and deployed the Pano System in September 2008.

“From the greening of the desktop to securing desktop data to having no moving parts, it’s met our needs and offers a huge ROI from a management and efficiency standpoint,” said Lamson. “I also like the fact that Pano Logic is truly a zero-client software device.”

"Zero-client" means that instead of using a PC or a thin client, the student plugs a monitor, keyboard and mouse into a small cube the size of a Big Mac container that once in place, IT doesn't have to think about again. These zero clients have zero in them - they simply act as a conduit to connect the user to the computing on the server.

A Small Footprint: Savings On Energy and Physical Space

Westerly initially deployed a five-seat trial of the Pano System before ordering 30 more devices. IT had their trial deployment up and running within a few hours.

Acquiring and deploying Pano Logic cost less than the overall price of traditional desktop PCs. More importantly, Lamson expects the school district will save even more money in the long term, through reduced energy costs – especially given that Pano Logic has a longer lifecycle than the average PC. “When you figure in the cost of energy, the ROI means Pano Logic pays for itself in approximately three years,” said Lamson.

Additionally, the new system was a good fit for the older building, with its power and space limitations.

Time Savings and Security

With the Pano System, Westerly expects the amount of time spent supporting desktops will decrease substantially. Lamson and his team will only have to maintain one golden image through Pano Manager and VMware vCenter, compared to 30 previously. This centralization will also enable Westerly to quickly deliver the latest software and updates to their students and staff. Even more time will be saved because the Pano end-client has no moving parts to fail and no software needing to be updated or debugged. Another benefit Westerly has realized is the security of the Pano System - since it has no hard drive, there is no risk of information on it being stolen. In addition, Lamson and his staff can control which peripherals student and staff can connect to the USB ports on each device.

Next Steps

As Westerly Public Schools receive funding through a bond measure and grants, the IT department intends to continue deploying the Pano System throughout the school district. Additionally, although the Westerly deployment is currently only LAN, they will be looking into deploying and managing a distributed set of Pano virtual desktops over high-performance wide-area network links during the next school year.

“Just as some companies have adopted a ‘virtualization first’ policy regarding server acquisition, I plan on adopting a virtual desktop first policy. We are just starting to see the promise that Pano Logic has to deliver,” concluded Lamson.

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