If necessity is the mother of invention, then nothing drives a review of processes and services more than the convergence of budget constraints and antiquated technology. “During the financial crisis in 2010, as every single server died we also faced aging desktop computers at our school sites,” recalls Ben Odipo of the Corona-Norco Unified School District in Riverside County, California. “We struggled with a few tech support technicians for over 6000 employees and 50 schools.”
As CIO and assistant superintendent of information technology for the district, Odipo explains how the situation became a perfect opportunity to explore a virtualized infrastructure. “Technology’s one of the most vital things we need now in education,” Odipo says. “It was time for us to review how we provide the service to our end users: our students, our parents, and our teachers.”
The Learning Curve for Modernization
Brian Troudy, director of networking and infrastructure, sums up the district’s challenges. “We had a data center that had no virtualization,” he says. “And most of our endpoints throughout the organization were extremely out-of-date, leaving us with a whole host of security, support, and cost issues.”
One of the first things the district tackled was its data center. “Rethinking our IT ecosystem meant virtualizing our infrastructure for a Software-Defined Data Center, wherever possible leveraging centralized management and automation,” Troudy says. “This has allowed us to be much more efficient with a small staff serving such a large school district.”
As the IT organization became comfortable with the level of virtualization in its data center, it quickly realized the modernized infrastructure offered additional opportunities for end-user computing. “We began to really look at virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) as being a solution that we could host to our staff and students,” Troudy says. “We wanted to take the benefits that we brought to our infrastructure and extend that to our endpoints as well.”
In 2012, the school district began its VDI journey. Working with VMware on a pilot, the district replaced a group of about 300 Windows-based desktop computers with VDI and zero clients. Today, the IT organization runs 5,000 concurrent desktops and supports 8,000 zero clients across 50 schools in three cities—with two full-time staff. “We don’t see the support number changing dramatically as we significantly ramp up the number of devices,” Troudy says.
By using VMware digital workspace solutions, the district can now deploy a new computer lab at a quarter of the cost of a traditional lab. “With VMware, we had the capability to upgrade our data center and virtualize our environment,” Odipo says. “And eventually, we were able to provide end-user computing at a much lower cost than we did six or seven years ago.”
Making the Grade
From the teachers’ perspective, the digital workspace translates into a streamlined computing experience that empowers them to focus on what they do best: teaching. “That’s the game changer: The technology is no longer something that I have to sweat over every day,” says STEM coordinator Pete D’Agostino. “Now I can spend more time exploring different ways for kids to use different pieces of software and discovering better tools for student learning, not wasting time to troubleshoot problems or provide access to applications.”
Furthermore, students can simply log in and get to work. “Our students come to campus and love knowing that no matter what device they’re using, they’re logging into their account and they’ll have the same environment,” D’Agostino says.
Graduating to Next Steps
For other organizations embarking on a modernization journey, Odipo offers a few tips. “Be strategic about your initiatives. Think long-term. Put the right infrastructure in place first. All too often, many of us in technology get excited about the end-user devices. Those are always going to change. By investing your budget in the right place, with a sound environment, you will ensure that your end users have the experience that they are looking for.”
At the Corona-Norco Unified School District, Odipo and his team have transitioned IT as a black box that provides support into IT as an enabler for school sites, employees, and students. “That’s where we thrive,” Odipo says. “There’s nothing that makes me happier as a CIO than to be able to say I get out of the way and let the school site do what they need to do, to make sure that the students receive the education they deserve.”
In the video below, see how the digital workspace enables a consistent learning experience for one of the ten largest school districts in California.