Times Are Changing

A mythical Ed Tech Leader reflects on his mythical network.

I’ve got a network and it works fairly well. I’ve got just enough technical staff to keep things running and our heads above water. We’re doing our best to replace the older and more obsolete computers; but the budget is shrinking and it’s getting harder to keep up.

Question to Self: Self, is this the best way to do business?
Answer: I think so. It’s the way most people handle their school infrastructure and access.

Question to Self: So basically, unless the school district wins the lottery, the number of computers we have available for students and teachers is going to remain pretty near what it is today?
Answer: I guess so. I’m not hearing too many complaints about access, and even if I had the money to add computers, I wouldn’t have the staff to properly support them.

Question to Self: What if I didn’t have to replace the older computers?
Answer: That would free up a good chunk of money that I could spend on expanding access for students and staff. The problem is no old computer is going to run forever. Eventually it’s got to be replaced.

Question to Self: Would it help if you could keep it running the latest and greatest software for the next 10 years?
Answer: Well, yes it would. I could put off replacing them every 5-6 years because they can’t run the latest operating system or whatever.

Question to Self: What if when you take this freed up money you have from not buying replacement computers and you bought 2 devices for every one that you used to buy and added that to your existing inventory of computers?
Answer: Well, I’d be expanding at twice the rate. Instead of buying 50 full blown computers, I could buy 100 thin or slimmed down computers.

Question to Self: What if when you increased the number of computers you didn’t have to add more staff to support them?
Answer: That can’t be possible. I can barely handle what I have today.

Question to Self: But what if?
Answer: It would be great. But how can I keep old computers in place? How can I buy new devices at half the cost of what I used to buy? How can I do all this adding of equipment and not add support staff?

Question to Self: Hey, I’m asking the questions here!
Answer: Anything that sounds to good to be true usually is!

Question: Have you heard of virtualization?
Answer: Yes, of course. It’s been around for quite a few years; but it’s not for me.

Question to Self: Why not?
Answer: Well, you need to buy Citrix licenses which aren’t cheap. I heard that it can’t run video and multimedia very well, and I also think there are applications that are so processor intense, like Video Editing and AutoCad, that they don’t run well either.

Question to Self: When was the last time you took a really close look at ‘vitualization’?
Answer: Like I said, a few years ago.

Question to Self: What are a few of the things that you’ve seen change in the last few years?
Answer: Well servers are more powerful and can probably handle more ‘virtual user sessions than in past years. That would probably make things a bit less expensive. I wouldn’t need to buy as many servers. Oh!, and then there’s the sub-$500 dollar mini-notebook and thin client market that has exploded. I see that’s where I’d get the 2 for 1 purchasing power.

Question to Self: Did you know that new Microsoft Server OS developments can remove the need to buy Citrix for every device?
Answer: No, I didn’t. If that’s true it would greatly reduce the cost of ‘virtualizing’.

Question to Self: So what’s the big deal breaker that’s holding you back?
Answer: Like I said earlier, it can’t run every application.

Question to Self: Could you run 80%-90% of you applications from an application server and run the few applications that don’t run best in this environment on the local hard drives the way you do today? Any harm in a hybrid environment?
Answer: No. I don’t think so.

Question to Self: When you put 80%-90% of the software on servers that you manage centrally and the devices that attach to the servers are thin clients, fat clients, mini-notebooks, or obsolete computers that have nothing but the ‘virtualization” client on them, do you think it will be easier to support the network?
Answer: Absolutely. No more Ghosting and re-Ghosting the local workstation image. I’ll still have to have technicians but they won’t be spending nearly the time they spend today working on the end-user devices. They’ll probably be spending more time working on the switches and the servers.

Question to Self: So you can expand the number of end-user devices and not have to increase the number of support techs?
Answer: I think each tech in this new environment could handle many more devices because he’s not really working with the devices. He’s more focused on what’s going on with the application servers.

Question to Self: So, I’ll ask again. What’s the big hang up?
Answer: I feel like I don’t know enough about ‘virtualization’ to commit to it. It’s a big change.

Question to Self: Do you agree that it can deliver major benefits?
Answer: Yes. I can see that.

Question to Self: So what is a good first step?
Answer: I think I need to visit some successful sites. I could probably put together a pilot. I’d learn a lot from getting my hands dirty.

Question to Self: Why not get going?
Answer: Okay! Okay! Leave me alone. I’ll start working on it tomorrow.

Question to Self: Tomorrow?
Answer: You know me too well. I’ll start on it right away.


4 thoughts on “Times Are Changing

  1. This is awesome, if only our tech director was as willing to change and savvy enough to understand the options available.

    Skip virtualization! 90% of what the computers are used for can be done through a web browser, which gives the added advantage of letting teachers (and students) work from non-school computers. With advances to JavaScript interpreters triggered by Chrome, the practical capabilities of web apps will be growing faster than improvements to hardware.

  2. Dave,
    Thanks. I foresee a hybrid virtualized environment and Cloud environment for a number of years since not all apps are available in the Cloud right now. Any thoughts on printing from different locations in the school, or policies and rights that are now present on the local area network? I wonder what happens to these?

    I agree that we need to migrate away from the present model which is expensive and labor intensive.


  3. I agree that this would be an ideal solution, but I am concerned as well about the printing – we use iPrint as a client, I am assuming virtualization would be able to accomodate this but I do not know for sure, does anyone?
    Also – why Microsoft, isn’t there another solution besides Citrix or them? Anything out there that is Open Source and reliable?

  4. Jill,
    You’re right that in the past printing could be a ‘bear’ in this environment; however, there have been great strides made and this is no longer an issue. There are various products out there to help map and manage printers.

    As far as OS is concerned there Open Source works well. A key to success is to work with an experienced partner to set things up so you are not re-inventing the wheel.


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