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Virtual Money: Getting Creative To Stretch Technology Dollars

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Two years ago, Andy Hall, technology director for Kearney R-1 School District in Kearney, MO, faced a dilemma that's not all that uncommon these days. On the one had, the district was looking at significant cuts that would ultimately impact his technology budget; on the other, the demand for increased innovation and resources was reaching an all-time high, forcing him to rethink his overall technology strategy.

It was a complicated situation, Hall explained to attendees at the FETC 2012 National Conference in Florida Wednesday. "We live in an affluent community that is, at the same time, fiscally conservative. So, while our tax base is low, the expectations of our community are relatively high."

And that, he added, put his district in a difficult position.

Saving with Virtualization
Hall and his administration took a look at the needs of the district and the dollars available to spend on technology and--after successfully passing a small levy to help raise funds--decided there was only one reasonable path forward: virtualization.

Hall convinced his administration that virtualization of the district's desktops was the best way to cut costs, increase efficiencies, provide added services, and extend the effective life of aging hardware. Using Citrix solutions on the backend, and repurposing their current Gateway desktops as thin clients, Hall and his team virtualized more than 70 PCs in three labs across three buildings. The virtual infrastructure delivers basic productivity applications like word and excel, as well as Internet connectivity. As an added benefit, he was also able to leverage the new hardware to bring his physical server count from nine down to two, all without loosing any capacity or functionality.

"The original idea was to virtualize the desktops, and that worked well," he said. But with the new servers online, he said, Hall saw an opportunity to consolidate even more by virtualizing seven existing servers and deploying three major open source tools to deliver help desk services, online meeting and collaboration tools, and video streaming to the schools.

Some Hurdles
"To be honest," conceded Hall, "it wasn't all a huge success, and we've definitely had our share of bumps in the road."

The benefits are there, and include things like cost savings, extended machine life, added server space, single point of administration, and remote availability of applications.

But, he added, there is also a high learning curve, the risk of creating a single point of failure, and potential networking issues that can create bottlenecks.

"Planning is the most important part of this process," he said. "Really understanding the software options, training requirements, and technical limitations is crucial."

Of course, the cost savings realized by this "experiment" have allowed Hall to invest in a SAN solution that he has used to host even more virtualized resources.

About the Author

Chris Riedel is a freelance writer based in Illinois. He can be reached here.

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