A group of Northern Alberta schools is using thin client technology to help ensure all its 2,000 students and teachers have access to the same IT resources.

Fort Vermillion School Division, which is spread out across an area roughly

the size of New Brunswick, said it has installed a network using Citrix tools, remote monitoring and thin client computing.

Dave Hauschildt, IT manager for the Fort Vermillion School Division, said there has been a computer on the desk of every teacher for seven years, and they’ve had a five-to-one computer to student ratio since that time as well. However, with a new school built two years ago, Hauschildt said it was time to try something a little different.

“The principal was willing to look at new technologies, and this was a chance for us to try thin client in a Citrix environment,” he said.

Hauschildt said Fort Vermillion was looking for a way to manage its technology more cost effectively and still provide a high level of service and availability.

The pilot project involved a server farm in the school deploying various applications, like Microsoft Office XP and Encarta 2002, to thin client computers within the school. The computers are essentially terminals, with the programs run off the server, which does the required processing. That pilot went well, and last year was rolled out to four more schools, upgrading the network to Windows 2000 and Citrix MetaFrame XP.

Broadband access has been slow in coming to rural Alberta, leaving the schools using dial-up access until the SuperNet project brings high-speed Internet across the province next year. That required the division to place server farms into each school. But as SuperNet reaches Fort Vermillion, Hauschildt said they’re pulling the servers back to one central location for even easier IT management.

“Now we’re going to be able to upgrade our applications faster, I’ll have one guy that’s responsible for it,” Hauschildt said. “Time is a huge issue for us. If a technician needs to make a change on a system at a school that’s an hour away, that’s an hour each way they’re not able to do other things.”

Hauschildt said the initial cost-outlay for the Citrix network and thin client computers is similar to that for an all-PC network, but he sees the savings coming over time in terms of support and staff time to make for a lower cost of ownership.

“We’ll be tracking that over the next few years to see if it bears out, but so far it appears to be,” says Hauschildt.

David Wright, area vice president for Citrix in Canada, said the big advantage in an instillation like Fort Vermillion’s is freeing up the time of the IT staff who have to manage the applications and the computers.

“If you’ve got schools spread in a number of different locations and each person has a desktop running applications, you’re actually having to manage each desktop,” says Wright. “More and more of our customers are trying to become less dependent on desktops per se, use it more as an access device and centralize the applications they’re running, and in some cases the data they’re using as well.”

Wright says thin client computing also lets users extend the lifecycle of their PCs. Since most of the processing typically occurs on the server farm, not on the local PC, the processing capability of the desktop computer isn’t as important and doesn’t need to be upgraded as often.

“The motivations vary but the end result is always the same,” Wright said. “People end up saving time and saving money, and making their data and applications available from anywhere using any device.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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