York County School Division (YCSD), known for its forward-thinking and strategic approach to information technology, was an early mover to a virtualized software environment. With the transition complete, YCSD is now able to share and lessons learned from the transition with its peers.
With over 800 software titles being used in 19 schools, more than 6,000 computers, and some 14,000 students, YCSD had always faced a complex software management challenge. The school district viewed its virtualization initiative as an important opportunity to examine and improve governance of its existing IT asset management practices across the board. YCSD had a number of goals, among them providing optimal access to learning applications among its student population, ensuring ongoing compliance with software license agreements, preventing the use of malicious software or other programs not related to its educational mission, and, of course, finding ways to eliminate waste within the IT budget.
When YCSD evaluated its options for migrating to a virtualized environment, the IT department chose to implement Citrix XenApp to stream its educational and productivity software to endpoint devices across the entire system. XenApp Server provides end user access to applications on networked computers, remote desktops, and mobile devices in enterprise, government, and campus environments. However, just like software that resides on traditional single-user workstations, applications streamed from Citrix servers must be properly licensed, tracked, and managed.
Many organizations that use Citrix to stream applications violate one or more of their license agreements with major software publishers like Microsoft or Adobe, whether they know it or not. There are many reasons for this, prime among them the complexity of license agreements, which can cause genuine confusion about what's allowed under the terms of those agreements. In particular, many applications are licensed per-device, with no stipulation indicating how the End User License Agreements should be interpreted in Citrix environments where software is installed on one or more servers and accessed by a broad range of users and devices.
“We want to be in compliance with all of our license agreements," YCSD Software Configuration Specialist Dave Kilburn notes. "On the other hand, managing virtualized software licenses is not as straightforward as it is in an installed environment.”
YCSD searched for a solution to help minimize these licensing risks, one that would determine the number of software titles deployed, control hosted and streamed applications, and prevent malicious software use. The district selected Express Software Manager from Express Metrix to deliver the necessary management and control capabilities.
Balancing Broad Application Availability with License Compliance
“It sounds simplistic, but Express Software Manager basically made it foolproof for us to be compliant with our license agreements without compromising widespread availability to our student population,” said Kilburn. “All we need to do is go to one web page and look at a graph, which will confirm that all is in order or show you where to adjust if necessary.”
Express Software Manager also has an application control feature that ensures that no more students or devices can access a given software title than are licensed to do so. This means YCSD can take advantage of XenApp to stream software packages, making software available throughout the school division while still enforcing the mix of site, per-seat and concurrent license models.
Driving Down Software Spending
Kilburn leveraged usage statistics available via Express Software Manager's built-in reports to analyze software use across 800 or more installed software titles. Based on usage metrics alone, YCSD was able to eliminate over 200 titles that were underused, allowing the district to be more attentive to the use and licensing arrangements for the approximately 600 titles still deployed, as well as save on software maintenance and upgrade costs for unused applications.
“As an example, we were surprised to find that a well-known language learning program for which we had district-wide licenses just wasn't being used,” observed Kilburn. “We reaped considerable savings in that instance alone.”
Evaluating Hardware Capabilities
Kilburn also cites migration readiness as a key area where new efficiencies have been achieved. The district has found it's able to use Express Software Manager to gather information required to analyze computer hardware without needing to send a technician onsite. For example, the district can identify whether older computers in their system are capable of being upgraded to the latest version of Windows or can support a specific program needed for an individual education plan—just by pulling up a web report.
Centralizing Tracking of IT Purchases
YCSD has also taken advantage of Express Software Manager's easy-to-use purchasing interface. “Licensing is rather cumbersome to manage when you have multiple people purchasing and deploying software,” said Kilburn. “We have taken advantage of the purchasing portion of the product, particularly the web-based interface, to allow all of our employees with this responsibility to manage licensing and purchasing in one central database, accessible from anywhere in our environment.”
Controlling Rogue Applications
With young people increasingly skilled at using technology for their own purposes, it’s inevitable in an environment like YCSD that software will occasionally be used in malicious or inappropriate ways. YCSD takes full advantage of Express Software Manager's usage monitoring capabilities to uncover the use of unauthorized software titles as well as its application control functionality to automatically prevent users from launching them within its environment.
Kilburn wryly noted, “To date, we have not found an instructional reason for allowing Duke Nukem 3D to run on our computers, and Express Software Manager has given us the means to prevent its use. We have also been able to thwart several attempts at launching malicious software, such as Beast and Lupo PenSuite.”
Express Software Manager is now a critical part of the YCSD IT toolbox, and its peers in the education community have taken notice. The district has since presented recommendations to their educational counterparts using statistics found within Express Software Manager that were collected over a two-year period.
“There’s not a portion of the product that we don’t use,” said Kilburn. “Express Software Manager allows us to operate at the cutting edge, which is where YCSD wants to be. It has made life substantially easier for us all.”