With 14,000 computers distributed among 132 schools, the Durham District School Board faced a big IT challenge: supporting a diverse inventory of computers located in classrooms, labs, and offices across the region. IT staff had been driving to individual schools to resolve application issues, delaying help-ticket response times and imposing significant travel costs. Durham sought a more efficient way of supporting users. After researching a variety of options, the school board selected Microsoft® Application Virtualization, part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) for Software Assurance. Now applications are delivered to computers virtually from a central server, which has simplified and accelerated computer maintenance tasks, giving technicians the time they need to strategically manage the IT infrastructure and support the educational process.
With 106 elementary schools plus 27 secondary schools and learning centers, the Durham District School Board, located in Ontario, Canada, needed to update and manage the 14,000 computers used by students and teachers. Many of the computers had different hardware platforms and application packages, which complicated management for IT staff.
When it came to repairing computers or updating them with new applications, the IT department often had to plan for multiple days of work. In the high schools alone there were hundreds of computers in labs making it challenging to update and deploy computers efficiently. “It could take up to an hour to set up a computer,” says Wilson Chan, Manager, Technical Services, Durham District School Board. “We were wasting a lot of technician time traveling to individual schools and troubleshooting problems if the applications didn’t work properly.”
Time spent troubleshooting problems on site made it hard for technicians to tackle other IT tasks. Everything from routine network management to strategic IT evaluations took a back seat to computer management.
This situation also affected teachers and students. Due in part to the heavy maintenance burden, the IT department faced a backlog of help tickets, and sometimes weeks would pass between the time a ticket was submitted and the time the issue would be resolved. The school board needed a more efficient software management method that would allow the IT department to update and fix computers more quickly.
“Providing students and teachers with seamless access to technology is our core mandate,” says Chan. “If we didn’t have to spend time driving to schools to fix application problems, we’d have more time to ensure our network connections were operating as efficiently as possible, and we’d have time to review our infrastructure. We needed a way to deploy and fix software remotely so we could have more time to support the entire organization.”
Staff and students also benefit from a new application delivery model. Teachers often had to relocate classes from one computer lab to another in order to access needed software. The computers in Lab 1 might have a three-dimensional design program, but no mathematics software. Computer Lab 2 might have the math program, but no 3-D. If the teacher wanted students to use both, there were logistical issues.
In July 2007, after researching options to alleviate the application management challenge, Durham selected Microsoft® Application Virtualization. A component of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), Application Virtualization turns Windows®-based applications into centrally managed virtual services that can be delivered to any workstation or portable computer across an organization.
||Microsoft Application Virtualization helps us develop a better picture of our IT expenses, ensuring that we are getting the most out of our IT investments.
Manager, Technical Services, Durham District School Board
With Microsoft Application Virtualization, applications are assigned to users via Active Directory® service membership. When students and staff log on to district computers, they instantly receive the latest version of an application streamed to their desktop from a centralized server. When application updates or patches are required, IT staff can make changes on the server and then those updates are transparently streamed to individual users’ computers. Applications are installed locally in a virtual cache, so users in the Durham District schools and offices get the capabilities of a rich, powerful desktop and can have full offline access to applications. Virtualization applications also eliminate many application compatibility issues.
“Microsoft Application Virtualization helped us transform our applications into services, available whenever and wherever they’re needed,” Chan says. “We’re saving money, providing better service levels, and now we’re able to address application issues more quickly than before. It’s almost like our application environment went to summer school and came back in September smarter than ever.”
Since implementing Microsoft Application Virtualization, the Durham District School Board has been able to lower its IT costs, improve help-ticket management and application license control, and provide staff and students with easier application access.
Reduced IT Administration Costs
By implementing Microsoft Application Virtualization, Durham School District has reduced its IT administration costs by offsetting some of the expenses previously associated with workstation management. For instance, now that the school board can deploy applications remotely, technicians do not have to spend as much time traveling to the individual institutions to address application deployment issues, upgrades, and updates. Instead, the organization rolls out the enhancements from a central server, allowing technicians the time to consider other tasks, such as network optimization and planning. As a result, the school board can apply resources to other IT-related issues, and funnel funds into ensuring that staff and students have access to the best educational technology tools available.
Reduced Help-Desk Response Times
Since the school board now spends less time on basic computer management, the organization has more time to manage other IT issues, which has cut help-ticket response times from weeks to days. “Our backlog of help-desk requests has become more manageable,” says Chan. “Now our list of work to complete is about half what it used to be, and it’s taking us half the time to deal with each help ticket. In the worst situations, we used to get to tickets three weeks after they were submitted. Now, even during September, the busiest time of the year, we’re tackling tickets within a matter of days.”
Improved Application Access
Durham students and teachers also benefit from Microsoft Application Virtualization. Now that technicians have sequenced 90 applications within the virtualized environment, users can access any of the productivity applications, educational tools, and design programs licensed by the board. This means a teacher in Computer Lab 1 doesn’t have to relocate the entire class to Computer Lab 2 because the workstations in Lab 1 don’t contain the applications they need. With full access to applications from any computer, Microsoft Application Virtualization helps educators teach new skills more efficiently and in a less disruptive manner.
Greater License Control
Since implementing Microsoft Application Virtualization, the board has gained better visibility into its application licenses. Durham now has a better understanding of how many people use certain applications, allowing it to better manage and plan its software expenses throughout the school year.
“Microsoft Application Virtualization helps us develop a better picture of our IT expenses, ensuring that we are getting the most out of our IT investments,” says Chan. “Now we can better invest our savings in critical, strategic IT projects.”
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