December 20, 2010 By Sarah Rich
Scottsdale Community College in Arizona is using iPads in some of its classrooms thanks to innovation grants awarded from the school. The grant money was a result of money saved due to the college’s move into desktop virtualization.
The college’s CIO, Dustin Fennell, said that since the enterprise virtualization, which began two years ago, the college will be saving $250,000 a year. Because of that savings, last semester Fennell began offering $25,000 in innovation grants to be awarded to specific departments in the school each semester for various pilot projects related to technology.
“These grants are for our end-users — either faculty or staff. A lot of our front-line employees have ideas on how they can leverage technology to improve services or student success,” Fennell said, “but typically they don’t have any budget to help them experiment or the support that would help them move those ideas forward.”
In August, the first round of grant money was used to issue iPads to 36 students in English 101 and journalism classes, to be used for their coursework, Fennel said. The English students will continue to use the iPads for the spring semester, while the journalism students turned in their iPads last week at the end of the fall semester. The students were given a before, midpoint and after-use survey to see if the iPad impacted their learning.
The school also currently has four more pilot projects on deck for the spring semester that are funded by the innovation grants, he said.
But gaining the funds to award the grants wasn’t a simple task. For Fennell, that meant saving money by shifting the college’s computers to desktop virtualization.
Traditional upkeep for the school’s computers — like many organizations — included pushing out security and application updates and other changes on the college’s 2,000 end devices, Fennell said. The college also had a refresh cycle of four to five years, but the system was inefficient and wasn’t sustainable.
So the college partnered with Citrix, beginning the early stages of the $650,000 virtualization project in February 2008, he said. The college started the project during the second half of one fiscal year and finished the first half of the second fiscal year, so the school would have two fiscal-year budgets to pull from to fund the project.
Before starting the virtualization, Fennell made sure every computer on campus had at least one gigabyte of RAM and replaced the old CRT monitors with new LCD flat-panel monitors.
By August 2008, the college had 45 of its core applications virtualized and by January 2009, the college added 30 more applications that end-users from the school had requested. The college now has more than 220 virtualized applications, Fennell said.
The school uses a XenApp environment through Citrix for most of its virtualized applications. A virtualized application only uses resources in the data center to run that specific application, he said.
“If an end-user logs in to our environment, and clicks the Notepad icon, it’s only going to use a small amount of resources in a XenApp environment,” Fennell said. “… Because of the end-user experience that we want to deliver, we may run [an application] into either a dedicated XenDesktop called a VM hosted app, which is a virtual desktop in the data center, but it only presents that application to the end-user.”
Although Fennell feels the project has been successful so far, there have been some drawbacks to the virtualization shift. Fennell said the shift reduced staff by three full-time employees, which wasn’t popular to do, but had to be done because of the school’s budget constraints.
To be successful in a desktop virtualization transition, Fennell suggests always focusing on the end-user experience and allow that to drive any decisions that are made. It’s important to make the commitment to change, and stop doing business as usual, he said.
“We did stage that change realistically — in phases — but we made a decision to say, ‘We’re turning the ship in a different direction. And this is the direction that we’re moving.’”
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