School district gets virtual access to apps as old hardware ages out

School district goes virtual as old hardware ages out

In most public schools, students and teachers are saddled with last-generation software running on even older machines.  A school district in Connecticut, however, found a way to repurpose its old hardware and give students and teachers anytime access to the latest applications.

Shelton Public Schools adopted Citrix after a citywide referendum called for improving technology in the schools without  completely upgrading existing systems. The idea was to use Citrix “to get thin clients into the classroom and to also be able to repurpose old equipment as it ages out,” Shelton’s IT Director Daniel DiVito said.

The schools connected their older machines to Citrix’s XenApp, which provided a virtual Windows OS so Microsoft applications could run on old machines. It also gave students and teachers access to Google Apps for Education from any device.

The district brought in IT consultant Gotham Technology Group to help streamline the integration processes, make sure servers were running properly and outsource the back-end setup. Once those systems were in place, DiVito said the front-end interface integration was easy.

“Where things really started taking off for us was three years ago when we decided to really push and become a Google school and flood the district with Chromebooks and Chromeboxes,” DiVito said.

The district purchased 600 Chromebooks at $200 each, resulting in significant savings over laptops, which can cost upwards of $1,000 apiece and must be regularly refreshed. Google Chromeboxes, a small desktop machine running the Chrome OS, were mounted on the backs of the school’s monitors.

According to DiVito, each student after the third grade and all teachers are given log-ins to their own accounts through Citrix XenApp, with which they can use any device to access the same applications used in school.

The integration process was fairly seamless, DiVito told GCN, as the majority of Microsoft programs that students and teachers use run through Citrix and others are available via Google Apps for Education.

The schools are using mostly web-based applications like the Microsoft Office suite and are moving some educational products to a web environment. Some programs, however, such as psychology, reading and math programs and ExamView (a test generator), are running in the Citrix environment, not the web, for privacy reasons.

The schools do not have the back-end virtual infrastructure in place to run resource-intensive programs, such as AutoCAD. “It would end up just choking up all of our servers’ resources, and we couldn’t use the desktops anywhere else,” he said.  

Citrix also provides the Citrix Director dashboard for managing XenApp, which allows the IT team to monitor performance and to view metrics data, access logs and find out how many users are logged in at any given point. According to Citrix, managers can also export XenApp experience reports as datasets or use them to analyze trends.

Overall, this integration reduced the need for separate computer labs, let teachers collaborate on creating curricula and work remotely, and gave students access to learning materials anytime from any device. According to the Citrix, the project has also saved Shelton Public Schools $2 million dollars in IT costs over the past 10 years and will continue to save $120,000 a year in capital investments.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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