K-12 IT Trends | Guest Viewpoint

Virtualizing Buffalo

Buffalo Public Schools CTO Sanjay Gilani and Director of Instructional Technology William Russo explain how desktop virtualization, implemented this school year, is allowing IT to provide around-the-clock access to learning resources and to help the district prepare for Common Core assessments.

Students and teachers at several of our schools noticed something amazing and new at the beginning of this school year when they logged on to their computers: For the first time, students and staff were able to gain access to all of their software applications and information 24/7 — anywhere, anytime, through practically any device.

The Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) is making a significant investment in virtualization technology to ensure our students and staff can leverage technology in their learning experience for maximum benefit, now and in the future. Built upon VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), this innovation is delivering dramatic advantages to the BPS computing landscape.

Providing Access
Students and faculty can now gain secure access to their files and programs anywhere, anytime, from most devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops and home computers).

With secure remote access through VDI, a user's applications and documents will always be available, just as they left them at the end of the school day. This dramatic improvement in accessibility opens up endless possibilities for collaboration and inspiration. With log-in times on a virtual desktop reduced to 30 seconds, there's more room for instructional time, and faster access to applications and information.

Delivering Common Core Assessments
The Buffalo City School District can now more effectively support the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments that are being mandated for K-12 students.

New York is a governing state in the PARCC Consortium, a 20-state consortium working together to develop next-generation K-12 assessments in English and Math. As such, the state is participating in the field testing of the PARCC assessments in the upcoming 2013-2014 school year. As the second largest school district in New York, the Buffalo District is committed to ensuring that this program has every chance at success in our community to support our children's future educational opportunities. Leveraging our investment in virtualization technology will help us to provide a PARCC-compliant standardized testing delivery vehicle, both effectively and painlessly.

Controlling Costs
The overall changes we are implementing, including the replacement of traditional desktops with thin clients, will help us to reduce operating costs such as electricity and capital costs such as computer hardware.

Virtualization technology significantly reduces the electricity needed to power our computer systems, and it also helps us to extend the life of our technology investments and escape the relentless three- to five-year "tech refresh" cycle that is so expensive. In addition, we anticipate long-term savings as we leverage this investment to share resources and partner with nearby school districts.

Addressing Changing Needs
As instructional needs change, VDI provides IT with more agility to almost immediately push out instructional resources such as online resources, instructional links and software updates. This enables IT to be tremendously more helpful in meeting the changing needs of students and teachers by providing a more dynamic classroom and a better use of resources the school system has already invested in. Ultimately, VDI can make learning materials more readily available to faculty and students.

With three years of research, planning and preparation under our belts, our technology journey now begins in earnest. We've built two new data centers to support our implementation of VDI, and we've rolled it out to fifteen schools in January 2014. We are excited to improve our agility and responsiveness, and in order to ensure that we are providing the best possible learning environment for our community, we look forward to hearing from our students and faculty regarding how this technology impacts their learning and teaching experience.

About the Author

Sanjay Gilani is Chief Technology Officer and William Russo is Director of Instructional Technology for Buffalo Public Schools, serving 60 schools from K-12 and approximately 40,000 students and faculty members in Buffalo, NY — the second largest city in the state of New York.