VMware Horizon

To Virtualize Or Not To Virtualize In The K-12 Realm

Chino_ISD_George_Khairallah_headshot Guest Blog Post (Part 1 of a 3 part series)
By Georges Khairallah, systems engineer, Chino Valley Unified School District

The concept “virtualization” has been floating around for the past couple of years, and for good reason. The benefits advertised around ROI, energy savings, ease of management are all true. But how does this pertain to K-12 school districts in a very challenging economy?

Because I am an implementation engineer in a K-12 district, I wanted to specifically focus a series of blog posts on the benefits and challenges of implementing a virtualized environment in school districts, and outline key factors to consider before implementing virtual desktops.

The solution we use in our district is VMware View so the focus of my three part blog series will be around my experience deploying View, although a lot of the points I will highlight below apply when it comes to any desktop virtualization technology.

Phasing in or Going All In?
No matter how you look at it, there is an initial cost that comes with virtualization, despite the fact that there are significant ROI benefits that schools will realize in the long run. In K-12, it is never easy to justify a long term ROI (i.e. in 3 years), when you have to pay $100k right now. But if you don’t look at the big picture when it comes to desktop virtualization, it will never make sense.

One of the challenges that many schools will face with virtualization out the gate is that their existing hardware will likely not be sufficient to meet the demands of a virtualized environment, even if said hardware was cutting edge at the time of decision to go virtual. The reason for this is that in order to optimize your deployment from a licensing perspective, you will want to be able to place as many virtual machines on one host as possible. But in order to do this you will need a high performing server and enough storage on hand. Of course keep in mind that having one host with everything on it is by no means a best practice (I am just highlighting this to make a point).

Now whether it makes sense to take a phased approach to rolling out virtual servers and desktops or go all in seems like a moot point – as most people would say that the obvious answer would be to go with a phased approach.

Let me clarify however, that by “phasing in”, I am not suggesting skipping out on  running a pilot, or testing, but rather, I am referring to whether or not you will want phase in your roll out or initiate a large scale virtual deployment where you would jump in with both feet.

So let’s start with server virtualization. Having gone through the process myself-and given the big challenges around funding in K-12, I have found that you have to seize the moment whenever funds are available to roll out your virtual environment.  Now provided that you are comfortable with the idea of virtualization, I think that an “all in” approach whenever possible is far more productive from a hardware purchase standpoint. However, be aware that an all in approach also means that your staff will be completely tied up with deploying the virtual environment. From this standpoint – and for those of you with limited resources-a phased in approach is likely more appropriate.

And while an all in approach to desktop virtualization is ideal, I think it is generally quite cost prohibitive, and requires more than a few hardware changes during implementation, as well as cultural changes from users. As a result, a phased approach may be the only way for many schools, unless they are one of the lucky districts who have a constant flow of funding.

Fortunately at our district, we had an opportunity to purchase servers with Microsoft voucher money, and we seized that opportunity to populate all our schools with hardware. It did take us about six months to get all of them implemented, but at least we knew that the hardware resources would be available.

In my next blog – Part two of this three part series – I will look at “How deep do you want to go,” when rolling out a virtual environment.

Georges Khairallah is a systems engineer at a large school district in Southern California, with an overall passion for technology.His main focus revolves around directories, virtualization, and systems integration. He stays heavily involved in new technology, and has a special interest in making any admin's life easier and more efficient. You can follow his blog at http://blog.foreignkid.com.