Employee Experience

Whatcom Community College Virtualizes Student, Faculty, Staff Desktops and Applications

The IT team at Whatcom Community College has been doing some great things with both server and desktop virtualization.  We recently published a full case study on the school’s IT strategy here… Pasted below is an overview of what Whatcom has been doing on the desktop side with VMware ThinApp and VMware View.

After virtualizing the datacenter, Whatcom Community College moved on to the desktop infrastructure. The college’s long-term strategy is to virtualize some 90 percent of its 1,000 desktops, migrate to zero clients and provide remote access to all end users. WCC started by replacing 75 end-of-life devices with Wyse® P20 Zero Clients, with plans to increase to 200 over the coming year and also virtualize an additional 200 legacy thick clients. 

“Zero clients are half the cost of fat clients and last twice as long, making them one quarter the cost,” said Ward Naf, WCC IT director. “And that’s not counting power and cooling savings, maintenance time and simpler application upgrades.” 

WCC installed four new Dell PowerEdge 810 servers to host 800 simultaneous VMware View™ desktops, for a 200:1 consolidation ratio. 

Naf counts 110 applications used across campus client devices. They include Microsoft® Office Suite and educational software such as ELLIS Master Pronunciation for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), PASCO DataStudio data collection and analysis software for teaching physics, and Cengage Learning™ Precalculus with Limits.

Keeping all this software up to date, and keeping the machines on which it ran in operational condition, had been a big challenge. Desktop virtualization is changing all that. Now applications reside in the datacenter, with centralized image management. IT staff don’t have to touch individual machines to perform upgrades or resolve problems. 

“Changing configurations, patching, moving software around when classes change locations—all these tasks are much simpler,” says Bill Zilinek, desktop support manager. “And, time to problem resolution is much less.” 

Deploying new applications is fast and simple with View, he says. Recently, the director of WCC’s Community Education program called with an urgent request. A customer wished to rent WCC space to teach a course on Microsoft® Office 2010. Zilinek was able to provision the application for computer-lab desktops in minutes. 

“We were able to set it up really quickly, on the fly,” Naf says. “All the user had to do was log off and log back on, and the application was there. The class went off without a hitch. The instructor and end users didn’t even know the software wasn’t installed on their machines.” 

What would have been 10 hours of work took 10 minutes, with no downtime for end users, Zilinek adds. It all went smoothly, whereas past installations commonly ran into problems such as machines not booting back up properly. “Now, when an instructor needs course resources at the last minute, we can say ‘yes.’ The infrastructure is adaptable.” 

WCC used VMware ThinApp™ for agentless application virtualization. The tool should greatly simplify many software migrations, including a planned upgrade to Microsoft Windows 7, Naf says. 

WCC also has been testing remote access to the View desktop, starting with IT staff and then top administrators. One employee who went on medical leave was able to work seamlessly from home. WCC’s goal is to provide remote access next to all faculty and staff, and eventually to students as well. 

“We’ve had a VPN but we’ve never offered true remote access before,” Naf says. “VMware View will enable users to have the same desktop and software at home or on the road that they have at the office or in class.”

Datacenter and desktop virtualization at WCC might have been driven by budget concerns, but ultimately what the college gains is a more adaptable organization, simpler IT management and better service to students, faculty and staff.