Bethel Park School District (BPSD) is committed to using technology to enhance education. Computers are used in every classroom and in labs throughout the district’s eight schools. Deploying and managing software applications to all these computers consumed a tremendous amount of time, however, and required technicians to spend up to five days every month installing and maintaining software applications. BPSD now uses Microsoft Application Virtualization to virtualize its application environment, reducing application provisioning time from one week to one day, enabling applications to be portable among computers and schools, and greatly improving license management. The district now has a reliable, highly manageable application environment that delivers better service to teachers, and it cuts the time that technicians spend on application-related issues by 400 percent.
Bethel Park School District (BPSD), just south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is home to eight schools spread over 12 square miles. It has a reputation for providing excellent instruction and using technology to enhance the quality of education. About 300 different software applications are used by the district’s 5,000 students and more than 700 employees. All this software is supported by just one application specialist, who is assisted by three technicians.
“It was really difficult to provide efficient service for all of our users,” says Ron Reyer, Director of Technology for the Bethel Park School District. “Our application specialist had to handle all of the application delivery and maintenance for about 1,700 computers, and our technicians spent a lot of time travelling throughout the district installing and troubleshooting applications.”
Time-Consuming Application Deployment
BPSD did not have enough IT staff to devote to packaging applications. Instead, it installed some applications remotely through login scripts, which entailed running a silent installer, making proper registry entries, testing the application, and pushing it to the desktop computers. Applications that could not be deployed this way were manually installed on each computer that needed them by BPSD technicians.
“It took about four days to script and remotely deploy an application. Installing it locally was also time-consuming,” says Reyer. “It could take up to an entire day for a technician to install an application on 30 computers in a lab. Applications that had to be installed on all 1,700 computers could take a week’s worth of effort by several technicians, during which time the technicians were unavailable for other IT needs.”
On-site installations also could be disruptive to teachers and students. “We had to do all the deployments during the school day because our sparse staff does not allow us to operate around the clock,” Reyer continues, “which meant that the labs had to be closed when a technician was installing applications.”
Even though BPSD tested applications for compatibility before deploying them, it was not unusual for computers to fail after a new application was installed. “No matter how extensively we tested, it was impossible to account for all the variables,” says Matt Johnson, Application Specialist for the Bethel Park School District. “When a computer went down, we had to send a technician to figure out the problem and, often, uninstall and reinstall the software. Depending on the number of systems affected, this could take from one to several days.”
Limited Application Portability
Because applications were installed to specific computers, rather than assigned to users, it was difficult for BPSD to accommodate individual user’s needs. “If we purchased 30 licenses of an application for a teacher in one lab, and then a teacher in a different location needed the same application, we couldn’t easily move the software around,” Reyer explains. “If the software was no longer needed in the first location, we would send a technician to uninstall it from all 30 computers, and then he would travel to the new location to install it again in the other lab. The process would require a whole day.” If the software was still being used in the original lab, then BPSD had to purchase additional licenses. When budget was not available, the teacher and students would have to go without the software.
The lack of application portability was also an issue for teachers who worked in multiple buildings. “Some of our faculty, such as special education teachers, move between the middle school and the high school. We had to install the specialized software that they needed on computers in both sites,” Johnson says.
Troubleshooting was also problematic. According to Reyer, “We had no view into which applications were supposed to be running on which computers. Therefore, when a computer failed and we dispatched a technician to fix it, we’d often get calls from the teachers afterwards complaining that their specialized applications were no longer on the machine. Then we had to send the technician back to the school to reinstall the applications. It was a big time drain and very frustrating for the teachers.”
BPSD needed a better way to deploy applications and enable them to be portable, while minimizing the technicians’ travel time. It also wanted to improve license management for the district and IT support for teachers.
Bethel Park School District IT staffers were familiar with application virtualization technology and believed it could help solve their deployment and management problems. “When you have to support hundreds of applications across thousands of PCs, there is nothing that delivers the ease, scalability, and time savings that Microsoft Application Virtualization enables,” Reyer says. “We were just waiting for the right time to incorporate it into our infrastructure.”
||When you have to support hundreds of applications across thousands of PCs, there is nothing that delivers the ease, scalability, and time savings that Microsoft Application Virtualization enables.
Director of Technology, Bethel Park School District
That time came when Microsoft made Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) available through the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, an add-on subscription for Microsoft Software Assurance customers. “Microsoft made it very cost-effective for us to virtualize our environment,” Reyer adds.
In spring 2008, BPSD began rolling out App-V. “We didn’t know how well App-V would work, but we were willing to take a chance because we had such confidence in Microsoft technology and support,” Reyer says. “It turned out to be a good bet. App-V consistently performed great.”
BPSD started by using the App-V Sequencer to virtualize one application that was used by about 10 people. Then, as new applications were requested it virtualized them and continued the rollout. To date, BPSD has deployed the App-V client to 1,700 computers and has virtualized approximately 25 applications, including Harmonic Vision Music Ace, Scholastic READ 180 1.9.2, South-Western ExamView Test Manager 6.2, Crick Software Clicker 5, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and Skype 4.1. BPSD used Active Directory to assign virtualized applications to groups of users, and the App-V streaming capability to deliver the applications to appropriate computers. Instead of being installed, the applications reside in a non-volatile cache, which enables them to run locally with full functionality while minimizing changes to the host computer.
In August 2009, BPSD joined the Technology Adoption Program for Microsoft Application Virtualization to take advantage of the product’s 64-bit capability. “We had purchased new computers that had the 64-bit version of the Windows Vista operating system and wanted to be able to run the App-V client on them,” Reyer says. “We’re also beginning to deploy the 64-bit version of the Windows 7 operating system and want to be able to run applications that have been virtualized for previous operating systems.”
In January 2010, BPSD extended its use of App-V with a Terminal Services implementation. Using Microsoft Application Virtualization for Terminal Services, BPSD enables 50 concurrent users—teachers and students—to access virtualized applications, which reside on one server computer in the BPSD data center, from their own computers at home. The initial implementation consists of a HP ProLiant DL380 G6 computer running Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise with three Hyper-V virtual machines. “Hyper-V enables us to grow our environment while slowing the addition of physical computers. It provides the capabilities we need at the right price,” Reyer says. “We also evaluated VMware, but it wasn’t affordable. It cost as much as $2,000 more per server than Hyper-V.”
Using Microsoft Application Virtualization, Bethel Park School District reduced the time needed to deploy applications, gained much more flexibility in terms of when and how it provisioned applications, and improved license management. It created a reliable, highly manageable application environment, while delivering better support to teachers and minimizing the time its technicians spend on application-related issues.
“We can deliver applications dynamically and easily add or completely remove them from any computer using the App-V management console. We dramatically reduced the effort and costs involved in managing applications,” Reyer says.
Accelerated, Simplified Application Deployment
BPSD no longer has to create scripts for remote installations or send technicians to the schools to manually install applications on computers. It also doesn’t have to devote time to testing applications for compatibility. “Virtual applications never conflict or crash because they are isolated from one another; they don’t actually live on the computers,” Reyer says.
||Hyper-V enables us to grow our environment while slowing the addition of physical computers. It provides the capabilities we need at the right price. We also evaluated VMware, but it wasn’t affordable. It cost as much as $2,000 more per server than Hyper-V.
Director of Technology, Bethel Park School District
Instead of taking an average of one week to prepare and deploy applications, it takes about one day. “We just assign applications to the appropriate user group in Active Directory, and the next time the students or teachers log in, the applications are instantly streamed to their computers,” Johnson says.
Adds Reyer, “We reduced the burden on our technicians by about 400 percent, saving at least five days every month that used to be spent installing and uninstalling applications, and made our workdays much more predictable.”
BPSD also can provision applications at any time, without having to shut down labs for installing and uninstalling software. “We don’t have to worry about disrupting classrooms; our technicians don’t get in the way of teaching,” says Reyer.
Increased Application Flexibility and License Management
Because application licenses are applied to users instead of computers, BPSD has much more flexibility in terms of how it assigns and provisions software. “We don’t have to install applications on every computer that a teacher or student uses. As long as they have rights to the applications and we have adequate licensing, they can access them from any computer,” Reyer says.
License management is much easier. “We use the metering capabilities in App-V to set the number of concurrent licenses for each application. If an application is needed by a different teacher or in another location, we don’t have to uninstall it and then reinstall it somewhere else—or purchase additional licenses if the software is still needed by the teacher that the license was originally purchased for. We just configure App-V to remove the applications when they are closed, and that frees up the licenses to be used as needed by other people. This enables us to realize significant savings in software licensing costs,” says Reyer.
BPSD uses App-V to monitor how often—and by which students and teachers—its applications have been used. “We plan to use this ability to justify additional license purchases, identify when applications are no longer used and needed, and demonstrate that district funds that were spent on specific applications were wisely invested,” Reyer says.
Enhanced Control over the Application Environment
BPSD has much greater control over its application environment. “A virtualized application is a managed application. Using the App-V management console, we have visibility into applications that we never had in the past,” says Reyer. “This helps us to address issues immediately instead of having to send a technician out to troubleshoot and fix problems.”
For instance, if a teacher calls the IT department because he or she cannot access an application, BPSD might see that the teacher simply did not have rights to the software. “I just add the teacher to the Active Directory group, and he or she can immediately run the application,” Johnson says. “Teachers get their problems resolved quickly, and IT saves a tremendous amount of time.”
||Microsoft made it very cost-effective for us to virtualize our environment.
Director of Technology, Bethel Park School District
BPSD eliminated the problem that frequently occurred in the past when failed computers that it restored were missing the specialized applications that teachers required. “The technicians didn’t know that those applications had been installed on the computers. But now, because applications are linked to users in Active Directory, the icons automatically appear when the teachers log on. It alleviates a lot of headaches,” Johnson says.
BPSD also can ensure that application instances are the same on every computer. “When teachers or technicians install applications, there is always the likelihood that they will choose different add-ons and configurations. With virtualization, applications are identical on every computer that they run on. This makes managing and supporting them much easier,” Reyer says.
Microsoft Desktop Optimization
Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) for Software Assurance makes it easy for an organization to administer its applications, offering tools for virtualizing and inventorying software installations, for managing Group Policy settings, and for system repair and data recovery.
For more information about MDOP, go to:
For More Information
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For more information about Bethel Park School District products and services, call (412) 833-5000 or visit the Web site at: