VMware Horizon

A Christmas Story? – Making the Case for Virtual Desktops at Tyler ISD

Guest Blog Post
By John Orbaugh; Director of Technology Services, Tyler Independent School District
(Part 2 in a series – continued from “Making the Case for Virtual Desktops at Tyler ISD”)

Xmas story In order to move our test beyond just a successful proof of concept I needed to have the support of our district’s administration and Board of Trustees.  One thing that I am grateful for is the support I have from both these groups.  Having their confidence comes from years of successful technology projects and a carefully protected reputation.  Couple that with the fact that I have a very talented and dedicated group working in my Network Technology Department and you have a recipe for great success.  Despite that trust, I wanted to build a firm foundation under the project.  One way to build that confidence in the technology was to seek out others who were already deploying virtual desktops.

I visited with some of our vendors and found another district where we could take a group for a field trip.  Knowing how everyone loves a field trip, and how seeing is believing, I invited a group consisting of technology, curriculum and instruction and campus staff and departed to visit a small, but rapidly growing district near Houston, TX. Montgomery Independent School District graciously hosted a meeting where our group of travelers was able to see and hear how this technology was transforming their district.  The response by the entire group was very positive.

Armed with support from a wide array of district staff and the results of the “Pepsi Challenge”, I made a proposal to our Board of Trustees to purchase some blade servers and storage and to hire a consulting firm to deploy a 200 seat thin client pilot project.  The pilot project would provide converted PCs as well as a few actual thin devices in administrative locations as well as elementary and secondary schools.  The Board approved the proposal and soon we were racking, stacking and installing software.

The pilot project would also give us the opportunity to stand up representative deployments from the two major vendors of virtual desktop software. I’m sure you can read the hand writing on the wall of who we selected as our vendor of choice since this blog is posted on VMware’s website, however the point of this is making the case for the right system and not just plopping a piece of technology down in the midst of a school district.  We wanted to see what would work best given our unique set of networks, computers and software.  A lack of extensive testing is a path to failure.  Plus, having my network staff sitting next to the consultants as they set up each system was a tremendous benefit.  We gained valuable knowledge along the way that will be paying dividends for years to come.

Once the core systems were in place, virtual desktops created and software tested we proceeded to convert computers at an elementary, middle and high school and monitored their performance for a period of three weeks.  By the time the testing was over we had evaluated twenty-three software packages, gathered information on our network performance and had firm data from which we could design a system to deploy 4,000 virtual desktops for our students.  We also knew beyond a doubt which virtual desktop software performed best for us.  The VMware View package made our nine and 10 year old PCs run like they were fresh from the factory!  The ROI showed that we would recoup our investment, based solely on hard dollars, in less than seven months.  The savings, comparing buying our traditional PC v. a thin device, over a five year period topped $3 Million.  We were ecstatic, even to the point of being giddy!

With this data in hand our consultant provided a custom built solution of servers, storage and software.  We knew how much to budget and I was ready to lay a proposal before our Board for approval.  Everything was looking good right?  Well to borrow a quote from one of my favorite movies, A Christmas Story,

Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”

That’s right…just as we had it all figured out and were ready to charge forward the legislature announced that their cut of up to $9 Billion in funding to school districts included the state technology allotment for our school district.  We knew there were some cuts coming, but I never expected that they would wipe out the entire technology allotment.  Yet, in a moment, the news came that over a half million dollars had just vanished from my budget.  We were suddenly farther away from success than when we started.  Now I had a new problem to manage.

To be continued…