Aarburg school has virtualized their computer workstations for students and teachers: desktops and applications are no longer running on the local computer but are provided by a computer science center in Oftringen (IZO) via Citrix XenDesktop. Students can work faster and more comfortably with the latest software, teachers have also got access to all data and applications from home. At the same time the school benefits from efficient administration and lower power consumption.
The city of Aarburg in the southwest Canton of Aargau has a wide range of educational establishments. From kindergarten to the school district Aarburg, children can attend all school levels in their own place of residence. Specifically, the school organization in Aarburg includes six kindergartens, two primary schools and a high school center containing the district school, secondary school and junior high school.
In recent years, computer systems have been introduced gradually in order to take advantage of new educational opportunities for teaching in these facilities. "Each device was initially acting independently and your own IT solution could be altered," says Walter Lätt, who works as a school computer manager for Aarburg school today. "The result was a very heterogeneous infrastructure consisting of individual Linux and Windows NT servers, a variety of self-installed programs and a mix of relatively poorly maintained PCs. In many cases, the devices could hardly be used for teaching anymore. "
The school management therefore started thinking about improving the IT situation, along with the leaders of the community and school administration. In a joint venture, the objectives of the future computer science concept were defined. Top priority was the use of the latest software, the introduction of a central administration and data backup, increasing the resiliency and flexible access options for teachers. Together with the IT partner, Steffen computer science, requirements were analyzed in detail and different solution scenarios played out. Finally, it was decided to implement the desktop virtualization solution Citrix XenDesktop for 250 students and teachers.
The implementation of this concept was to a fundamental realignment of the IT strategy. The desktops of computer workstations are no longer visible on the schools terminals, but in the nearby computer science center Oftringen (IZO). In eight powerful servers, the Windows 7 desktops are accessed by teachers and students on their own virtual machines. The virtualization platform Citrix XenServer is used. Access to the virtual desktops is via a fiber-optic network.
Devices in the XenDesktop environment do not need to be powerful PCs - the majority of the computer workstations in the schools are instead being gradually converted to IGEL thin clients. The rugged devices do not require their own hard drive and consume significantly less power than conventional PCs. In addition, the schools use notebooks in some areas as mobile workstation systems - and in the future possibly also iPads. "We have already carried out the first tests with the tablets from Apple," says Walter Lätt.
Students can work much faster than in the past using the virtual desktops: Just 30 seconds after switching on the computer, the user's desktop is live. All necessary educational applications have been integrated, in collaboration with Steffen computer science, in the virtual desktop - including voice applications requiring headphones and microphone, as well as special software for photo and video editing. "The good performance of multimedia applications and easy integration of local peripherals were decisive factors in our choice of XenDesktop," says the school computer manager.
For the teachers at the schools in Aarburg, the solution also offers great advantages: You can now work from home accessing your desktop via the internet, with the ability to print documents and enter data in the central systems. For secure web access IZO uses Citrix NetScaler. The integrated SSL VPN functionality encrypts all communication between the user's terminal and the servers in the data center.
Walter Lätt also emphasizes that an entirely new standard was achieved with the administration of computer workstations with XenDesktop: "We no longer need to manage individual devices today, but only three standardized desktop images for primary school pupils, secondary school students and teachers. If we import a new application in the image, this is immediately available to all users. Moreover, through the data center we have an automatic data backup guaranteed."
With the transition to virtual desktops important school management goals were realized. The school computer manager and the computer science managers in the various school buildings can concentrate on the evaluation of appropriate educational applications and technical support. Technical routine tasks such as regular patch management are largely eliminated. Also maintenance of the terminals are hardly necessary: The desktops are safe from manipulation and students can be placed in the initial state by a simple reboot of the virtual machine at any time.
"With XenDesktop we have set a modern and efficient basis for our school computer science," Walter Lätt summarizes. "Desktop virtualization now opens up entirely new possibilities. Since the desktop is no longer bound to a terminal, our students could in future even access all the school applications from home with their own computer."
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