Del Valle Independent School District is located in southeast Austin, Texas, and has a Texas-sized mission statement: empowering students not only to be engaged leaders and contributors, but also to be world-class visionaries. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Del Valle takes that same engaged, forward-thinking approach when it comes to technology.
Del Valle’s IT team supports K-12 learning for 12,000 students across nine elementary schools, three middle schools, and a high school. The busy team also supports 2,000 staff members who rely on IT to maintain applications and data for electronic record keeping, purchasing, registration, payroll, grade reporting, and a variety of other activities. Students log into instructional applications using school district provided Chromebooks, create engineering designs in a state-of-the-art modeling lab, and use virtual desktops through VMware Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). The whole district is wired, and the need for shared computing resources is intense. Del Valle is in the process of a unified expansion to provide the best technology possible to its students. The district has implemented App Volumes for their Chromebooks, and Horizon View for approximately 2,500 desktops across the district’s school labs.
Del Valle's Challenge
For Del Valle’s IT department, which oversees the full range of the district’s infrastructure needs, one of the primary challenges is meeting the varied, ever-growing demands for essential IT services like storage and backup capacity, within the limits of the district’s constrained budgets. “We looked at areas where we could make our IT resources go a lot further, and virtualizing storage stood out,” explains Justin Carver, senior systems engineer at Del Valle ISD.
Ultimately, complete virtualization is a key initiative for Del Valle. What piqued Justin’s early interest in virtualization was VMware vSphere, because it was fast and easy. “We are able to virtualize most everything without disturbing the environment, so our end-users don’t know anything has changed, except things often just run better.” Del Valle recently migrated its non-converged servers to run on all-Flash vSAN, backed by two new Dell FX-2 chassis. With the new architecture, the need for physical hosts was reduced from 16 to just 5.
Benefits of vSAN
The move to VMware vSAN hyper-converged infrastructure exceeded expectations: the only thing end users noticed was dramatically improved speed due to the much-faster flash technology of vSAN. For example, the financial database handling Del Valle’s purchase orders used to be so slow, the district’s controller team would wait up to five minutes to pull a PO from the system. After a seamless upgrade to vSAN, that lag time shortened to 20 seconds--a welcomed surprise to the team, who saw zero downtime, just a faster program that made their job much easier.
vSAN also helped the district decouple the data center from the never-ending heavy maintenance costs associated with the physical hardware lifecycle. According to Justin, costs related to support hardware have grown up to 10% annually, so maintaining a traditional SAN was a significant cost to the district. “The bottom line is that our annual support costs increase in a much smaller, more manageable way with vSAN,” he says. ”It’s more affordable, and with the current 132 TB of capacity, there’s plenty of room to grow; adding more just means adding another virtual node.” Another advantage is that the RAID 6 configuration in vSAN provides greater security against disk failure at lower hardware costs.
Another budget consideration in education is staffing: hiring is a lengthy, expensive, highly regulated process for schools. The simplified setup and centralized administration of vSAN has eliminated the need for specialized skill sets on the IT team and has enabled Del Valle to keep IT staffing low, which is essential in an era of often decreasing budgets. As a result, Justin adds, “I can manage the system on my own and make storage policy changes in just a few clicks.”
For a district committed to innovation, building the schools of the future on a modern data infrastructure just makes sense. By the 2018 school year, Del Valle is hoping to have its students and teachers logging into virtual desktops from just about anywhere, bringing immediate access to information and services to teachers and students where and when they need it.