Socorro Independent School District (SISD) enriches the lives of 44,600 students, with 7,000 staff. The budgets at schools are often tight, and SISD is no exception. SISD was running a mix of desktops, some up to 10 years old. The performance of the machines varied greatly and some’s performance limited usefulness for teachers and students. “In a corporate setting, computers tend to be retired as they reach the end of life. In an educational setting, we really don’t retire computer hardware,” say Hector Reyna, director of technology services for SISD.
Repurposing older hardware may benefit the short-term budget, but it often leads to challenges. “We used to hear frequent complaints about some of the older systems,” says David Akers, tech support lead. Software such as Accelerated Reader performed poorly on the aging legacy systems. “We had reached the point where aging hardware was impacting learning in the classroom,” Akers says. In addition, IT repairs interrupted class time. “Our staff were continuously travelling to schools to troubleshoot issues,” according to Akers. “We could have hired more staff, but that wouldn’t make the computers any faster.” Socorro ISD solved these problems with Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).
SISD was working on a bond initiative that would provide funding for a tech update. “The bond could have funded 3,000 new computers,” says Oscar Dominguez, district systems administrator. “The more we looked into VDI, the more we saw the opportunity to make a bigger impact on a broader scale with the same budget. The district already worked closely with Dell, with over 50% of their systems being Dell, so they were the natural choice for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. A team from Socorro visited the Dell Solution Center in Round Rock, Texas to see Dell’s VDI solution in action. Consequently, the district realized that Dell’s desktop virtualization solution was the perfect fit. As a result, Socorro ISD could afford 3 times as many VDI desktops than physical computers, all on the same budget.
Working with systems integrator Logical Front, SISD was able to combine the best tech with proven education IT integrators. Working with Logical Front, the VDI would consist of Dell OEM Citrix software. Consequently, the first round of 16 Dell PowerEdge M710HD blades were installed within a PowerEdge blade closure. Additional servers were rolled out containing the 12th generation blades. “Moving to the 12th generation blades brought a lot of advantages,” Akers noted. “They can host more virtual desktops than the previous generation and boot faster, a game changer when you’re doing maintenance on all 112 blades.” For storage, the blades connect to four Dell EqualLogic storage area networks (SANs).
“We started with one SAN, then added three more,” Akers says. “I’m able to stand up the storage in 10 minutes. It’s a point-and-click process that required no downtime for our virtual desktops.” Logical Front also helped SISD upgrade their storage solutions. “Since setup, the Dell EqualLogic storage has required very little management or monitoring,” quips Dominguez. “The only management we’ve had to do is setup new LUNs for the new enclosures.”
The VDI initiative actually coincided with a network upgrade previously planned. “We were seeing some pretty high saturation on the network during peak times, when a lot of students are surfing the internet for research papers or streaming multimedia content,” Akers says. “We needed to improve network performance to support the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.” As a result, Socorro ISD turned to Fiber channel and iSCSI. “It’s very cost-effective, and at this point it’s been working great for 8 months,” quips Akers. Since the network upgrade, utilization of bandwidth has dropped. “The VDI initiative hasn’t increased bandwidth usage on our WAN, only within the datacenter,” Dominguez says. “We’ve eliminated the one-off streaming of applications from servers to desktops.”
By running an upgraded network coupled with Logical Front’s VDI installation, SISD’s computers are running smoother than ever. Today the district runs 3,600 virtual desktops, with the hardware and software to expand that to 8,200 devices. This capacity is almost triple the amount of physical computers the bond issue might have purchased. As a result, the district’s IT technicians can manage a much larger number of PCs than before. “Before, we had a ratio of 1 technician to 2,400 desktop computers…with VDI, we’ll achieve a ratio of 1:4,000,” Akers says.
Now the district is considering BYOD capability on the VDI. “Our district can’t afford to buy a computer for every student,” Reyna says. This will increase access to the educational content for the students. With the support of Dell hardware and installation by Dell Premier PartnerDirect Logical Front, Socorro couldn’t be happier with the results. “We definitely recommend deploying the Dell Desktop Virtualization Solution stack, rather than trying to build a VDI platform yourself,” Dominguez says.
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