The schools in the town of Kloten run a virtual classroom from their desktop computers. Computer workstations for students and teachers can now not only be more efficiently managed but the latest educational applications can also be quickly deployed. For the management of the IT infrastructure, the city council's IT organisation uses the desktop virtualization solution, Citrix XenDesktop.
Children attending school today have already gained initial experience with IT: PCs and the Internet are part of the everyday lives of most families - and many children play with technology from an early age. Computer technology has now also become indispensable in the classroom: more and more teachers already use educational software as a supplement to traditional teaching right from year one.
However, the operation and administration of the required IT infrastructure is a challenge at many schools. Even in the six primary and secondary schools in the town of Kloten near Zurich, there was not an optimal solution for a long time: "The computer workstations in our schools were looked after by individual teachers - so-called computer science curators - with some external support," says Rosario Campagiorni, head of computer science for the town of Kloten. "However, the equipment was far from uniform and was not state of the art. In part, the school computers were not even internally networked correctly. Software installations and maintaining the operating systems took a lot of time and work."
To improve this situation and to provide professional technology, it was decided that the city council's IT organisation would help care for the schools' computer workstations. "A prerequisite was to initially develop a holistic approach," says the IT manager. "From our perspective, it quickly became clear that we can only manage the schools efficiently when we agree standardized structures." In several workshops with computer science curators and in collaboration with IT consultants, Steffen computer science AG, the IT organization developed a solution which the schools could implement.
The main aims were to establish a professional school network, a high-performance connection from the schools to the Internet and to the city council's data center, as well as an efficient, centralized management of all required IT resources. Through a high degree of standardization, most processes could be automated and support operations simplified.
"During the design phase, we realized that the virtualisation of user desktops could help enormously in achieving these goals," says Rosario Campagiorni. "If we do not install desktops and applications on local devices, but deploy them centrally at data center, we can reduce the administration overhead and gain additional flexibility at the same time. A virtual desktop can be used anywhere and is no longer tied to a particular terminal."
Working closely with technical specialists from Steffen computer science, the IT organization worked out a solution concept based on Citrix XenDesktop to virtualize the city's data center and operate the 600 user desktops at six schools in Klotener. The project team was consistently decoupling the individual desktop components: based on recommendations by teachers and students on which are the most important applications, Steffen computer science created a standardized operating system image.
The aim was that all virtual desktops would initially boot on the servers in the data center from one of these two standard images. Specific applications - such as learning programs for certain age groups - should then be provided with the App-V technology from Microsoft for virtual desktops. "The App-V virtualisation application will help prevent potential software conflicts, because each application runs in a protected environment on the desktop," says the IT manager. "At the same time we can very quickly add additional learning software without having to adjust the master image."
The user profiles of students and teachers are separated from the desktop image and centrally managed. For this task a Citrix XenDesktop profile manager is assigned: he ensures that all required user settings are provided when logging on to the virtual desktop and at the start of individual applications. Users find their personal desktop front at all times, while benefiting from fast logon times.
"Citrix XenDesktop makes it possible to provide individual desktop environments for schools with very low administrative overhead," Rosario Campagiorni summarizes. "With this approach no computer workstation has to be individually administered." A big advantage is that the schools in Kloten do not need fat client PCs in the classroom any more, but can use power-saving, robust and silent thin clients instead. "The schools in Kloten are even well equipped to use mobile devices with XenDesktop," adds Markus Oeschger, Deputy Managing Director of Steffen computer science. "To include smartphones or tablets you just have to install the free Citrix Receiver on the terminals."
Before the practical implementation of the desktop virtualization strategy the city council's education authority had to review the concept. "It was agreed that the approach was cost-effective, state of the art and met the users' needs," said Campagiorni.
Together with Steffen Computer Science, the basic XenDesktop environment was implemented in Kloten's data center and virtual desktops were introduced to the first school building - a primary school in Widen. At the beginning of the new year, students and teachers were the first to work with the new solution. "The transition went quite smoothly," reports Markus Oeschger. "All the school applications were running reliably in the virtual desktop environment from the outset. Because the server in the data center provides the required computing power, programs often even run faster than they did before on the mostly older PCs."
The switch also reduced support expenses: The virtual desktop environment is almost "indestructible" and safe from tampering, students can't make any permanent changes to the operating system or applications – and the desktop can be restored to its original state with a simple reboot.
The teachers at the primary school in Widen especially appreciated the flexibility of the new solution. For example, you can now access the virtual school desktop and all the applications from a home PC, mobile or laptop. Web access is protected by a multi-level security architecture: A Citrix NetScaler solution in the city's data center encrypts the communication between terminals and servers, and users are authenticated with a hardware token.
The other primary and secondary schools in Kloten will now be changed to virtual desktops step by step over the next few months. "The XenDesktop infrastructure is very scalable and can be expanded easily as your needs grow," explains the IT Manager. It is expected that, by the end of 2014, all schools will be able to reap the benefits of data center operation and the professional management of desktops and applications. In order to define responsibilities between the administration and the individual schools, service agreements will be drawn up and agreed.
"The first experiences with the new model are very convincing," says Rosario Campagiorni. "The Citrix technology is a cost-effective and professional means of managing the desktop infrastructure and relieves the everyday running of the schools enormously. The computer science curators spend less time worrying about content issues and more time promoting the integration of new technologies into the classroom."
Ultimately, the pupils in Kloten should benefit most from the new solution: "We can implement new requirements more quickly and at any time, allowing students to access to the most current software - no matter which terminals are being used," says the IT Head. "This ensures that in future, the schools keep up with technological changes."
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