Virtualisation slashes costs and truancy for school

One computer for every two children at Glenavon primary school

Glenavon primary school in Blockhouse Bay in Auckland has rolled out virtualisation technology from desktop virtualisation company NComputing.

The school wanted to get as many computers as possible in each classroom, but had a limited budget. Principal Elaine Herbert didn’t want to buy computers outright because they date so quickly, so looked at leasing computers for use in the classrooms.

“The most we could manage was four leased computers per room,” she says.

This was nowhere near the student-computer ratio she wanted.

In 2007 she heard about NComputing and how the company’s technology allowed for using parts of a hard drive not being utilised, and extending the host PC to up to six extra screens and keyboards.

In addition, this solution would cost half of what the leased PCs would have cost.

The school decided to go down the desktop virtualisation path and now has 16 computers in every room — one computer for every two children.

A lot of the children at Glenavon, which is a low socio-economic school, don’t have a computer at home.

“My feeling is I can’t do my work without a computer, so how much more important is ICT going to be for our children?” says Herbert. “They have got to start in school and it’s our job to supply that.”

But the slashed cost wasn’t the only benefit of the virtualisation project. The school has had problems with truancy in the past. A report from a couple of years back showed that, at one point, a third of the children were absent, says Herbert.

Now, a lot of classes have 100% attendance, she says. And while she can’t prove it, she thinks the virtualised computer project could be linked to reduced truancy numbers. The level of engagement from students seems to be higher, she says.

“If the children want to come to school because what they are doing is interesting to them and meets their needs, they will come more frequently,” says Herbert.

California-based NComputing’s shared technology has been in development for a number of years, but has only been on the market for the past two years, says John Robinson, the company’s New Zealand country manager, based in Australia.

The combined package of hardware and software allows a PC or server to be shared by tapping into unused capacity, so that multiple users can simultaneously share it, he says. Each student’s monitor, keyboard and mouse connect to the shared computer through a small access device, which has no CPU, memory or moving parts.

The experience for users is as if they were working on their own PC, says Robinson.

All the applications that exist on the host PC are there and everyone sharing the resources can access the applications simultaneously, without compromising on performance, he says.

The CPU of the host PC needs to be at least dual-core, he says.

The hardware is also environmentally friendly, he says. The devices only use one watt of power and don’t need a power supply, as they run off the host PC. As the devices have no CPUs they are not running hot, which helps cut down on air-conditioning costs, he says.

NComputing has about 20,000 customers in more than 100 countries, says Robinson. The most significant installation so far was a deal in Macedonia, where a government programme aimed to give all students in Years 9 to 12 access to a computer on a 1:1 ratio. The project involved rolling out 180,000 seats with the Linux operating system and Open Office, says Robinson.

The NComputing system supports the Windows and Linux operating systems.

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