A school district in British Columbia is hoping a software platform from Boston-based Softricity Inc.will lead them out of DLL hell and allow them to more rapidly and securely deploy programs across their 3,000 desktops.
BC School District 67, covering the Penticton and Summerland area in the province’s interior, has a centralized fibre optic network connecting its 19 schools. The district’s four IT staff need to manage nearly 3,000 devices, and assistant secretary treasurer Ron Shongrunden says as they were upgrading the network to Windows 2000 there were a number of issues that came up that weren’t as pressing or didn’t exist under the older OS.
In addition to software conflicts that would crop up as more programs were installed on each machine, they also had a number of long running security issues they were looking to solve. To run some of the programs they needed to give users administrative rights, clearly not an ideal situation for a school district, or any network.
“We have own internal system of hackers built in with students being around,” says Shongrunden.
They looked at a number of options, but Shongrunden says SoftGrid from Softricity seemed to be the best fit to address the issues they had identified, and easily deploy out the necessary applications to the users that need them.
“If a person wants AutoCAD in a remote school, we can very easily give that to them without having to physically go to their computer and install it. We just give them an icon on their desktop to link to our server,” says Shongrunden.
With SoftGrid, the programs run from the server, and don’t need to be installed on each individual desktop. That will allow the school district to launch a new program for home schoolers in the near future.
“People at home with an Internet connection will be able to access the applications via our server without having that software physically at home,” says Shongrunden. “It makes it easier to deploy for us, and should save some dollars.”
Softricity co-founder David Greschler explained that the idea behind Softricity’s platform is taking software and turning it into a service without re-writing the source code. It allows the software to run on demand, from a central server, and take its own configurations with it to the desktop.
“Often, when people install software, they change the components on the operating system by installing certain versions of DLLs or they make configurations to the registry,” says Greschler.
That’s fine when you install one application, but when you install other applications it can break the first application and crash the system.
“With our product, the software now lives on the network and is available,” says Greschler. “In effect, it brings its own bags with it. It doesn’t have to store settings onto the machine.”
It also allows the programs to think they’re running in administrative mode when really the desktop is running in user mode, making the network more secure. As well, since the programs reside on the network server, users can access their programs by logging onto any desktop on the network.
“What’s an interesting twist here is the users are always cycling through different machines, so it’s doubly necessary to be able to provision on demand the applications for that user,” says Greschler.
A lot of Softricity’s customers are large enterprises, and Greschler says many of them face the same problems that the school district was looking at. One of the major ones is rapid deployment, getting new applications and updates out to users and retiring old applications.
“You don’t want to be going to each machine and installing software. This allows them to put it on the server and serve it up on demand to whatever machine needs it,” says Greschler.