B.C. school district tames its applications

ComputerWorld Canada

Restricting students from accessing crucial information was a pressing problem for B.C. school district 67, according to Ron Shongrunden, assistant secretary treasurer for the district in Penticton.

Many applications available to students in the district, which serves Penticton and Summerland, B.C., were accessible only in an administrative mode. This meant students could freely gain access to all the settings inside the desktop and, in many cases, the entire network.

The school district turned to SoftGrid, a solution that allows users to pull applications from terminal servers or Windows desktops without installing or configuring the software. Although the district is using SoftGrid to solve this problem, the software’s maker, Boston-based Softricity Inc., didn’t know its service was capable of this function.

“It’s a great thing when you put out a new product and you find out that people use it in ways you never thought of. These guys discovered a way to solve a huge security problem for themselves using Softricity that, frankly, we didn’t know about,” said David Greschler, Softricity co-founder and vice-president of corporate marketing.

Greschler said this bonus function was achieved by using a Softricity solution called SystemGuard, a virtual run-time environment within which an application executes. SystemGuard consists of a virtual file system that houses all the files and settings needed by each individual application.

“What they were able to do is actually sequence the application in administrative mode and collect all the administrative settings. But when they streamed it down to the actual computer, they discovered they could actually run the computer in [a more restrictive] user-mode and the application would run because it would be looking inside SystemGuard and seeing on it all the settings that it needs,” Greschler said.

SoftGrid enables applications that have been written as products to be installed on machines and treated as services, he added. “We network-enable them so they reside on a server and then get delivered when a client requires it.”

Shongrunden said this on-demand deployment service is of great benefit to his organization.

“So, I’m sitting at my desk…and I phone my IT guy and say, ‘Hey, I need to use Auto CAD for a few minutes.’ He can just send that application to me in the blink of an eye. And even though I don’t have it installed on my machine, I can just use it and give it away again,” Shongrunden said.

He added that another concern the district wanted addressed by Softricity was a better tracking system for software to ensure compliance with licensing agreements.

“[SoftGrid] is kind of a metering, licensing type of a product,” Shongrunden said. This allows the school district to know how many licences it has of each particular product.

Paul Flynn, Eastern Canada general manager for Vancouver-based ThinApse, the IT infrastructure company that provided the SoftGrid solution to the school district, said by putting all software applications in a centralized location, any occurrences of non-compliance would be lessened.

“Now they are able to amalgamate those licences and use them in a pooled fashion for the classrooms in the [19] different schools [in the district],” Flynn said.

Greschler said another key benefit of SoftGrid for the school district is its ability to run many different applications