GEO Foundation cuts desktop costs by $60K

An Indianapolis, Ind.-based school management services provider estimates it will cost a mere US$18,000 to upgrade its school desktops during a five-year period, compared to $75,000 if it hadn’t rolled out desktop and server virtualization and data storage technologies.

The Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation provides a variety of educational management services ranging from getting schools started to financial management and legal expertise. But as the student population expanded across the four schools managed by the GEO Foundation, maintaining the supporting IT infrastructure was getting more difficult.

Every year, storage needs grew, cooling requirements became more costly and desktop backups more complex, said Brian Beck, GEO Foundation’s chief information officer. “As we moved forward on the upgrades and replacements, our server counts started to increase, which meant we started having problems with electrical capacity and cooling,” said Beck.

GEO Foundation worked with Citrix Systems Inc. to virtualize its servers and centralize computing functions with thin clients that were cheaper and more energy-efficient. The organization also worked with Scale Computing Inc. to address the need for more scalable storage depending on future needs of the schools.

“We would buy brand new machines every three to four years, and roughly about halfway through, you end up having to buy more memory or add more storage because requirements have changed,” said Beck.

At approximately half the price of a comparable desktop and with lower cooling requirements, deploying thin clients was a better option for the students, said Beck. As a result, he added, the question now is not about maintaining individual desktops, but “how much to replace servers that are hosting virtual images that power these terminals.”

GEO Foundation deployed 200 thin clients. The English and mathematics labs, said Beck, now are well-equipped to allow each students one machine, compared to three students per machine before.

Tushar Mutreja, director of education with Citrix Systems, said the last 18 to 24 months has witnessed a higher level of interest among K-12 and higher education levels for desktop virtualization. The drivers, said Mutreja, are not only budget pressures but the knowledge that desktop virtualization has “truly matured” and can address traditionally key concerns in education markets like managing highly graphical applications.

Moreover, thin clients are green given the lower wattage usage and longer refresh cycles, said Mutreja. “It is by default more green because you aren’t dealing with the recycling of the high-tech components which are pretty bad for the environment,” Mutreja said.

Centralized computing works well for an educational environment as well because by separating logical components from physical hardware that’s sitting in a lab or classroom, said Mutreja, IT services can be delivered on-demand to students on any device.

Server and desktop virtualization aside, GEO Foundation needed scalable storage because, as a network of schools, storage requirements can often be difficult to gauge, said Jeff Ready, CEO with Indianapolis-based data storage developer Scale Computing. “In a school situation, the nature of student projects will change over time and they likely will need more storage,” said Ready.

The ICS technology from Scale Computing that GEO Foundation deployed allowed for storage clusters that can grow from three terabytes to more than 2.2 petabytes, and easily scalable by adding additional nodes without compromising network speed, said Ready.

In addition to scalability, Ready said the technology is protocol-agnostic to weather the changing nature of storage protocol with new entrants like fibre channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

The revamped IT infrastructure at GEO Foundation, said Beck, has taken considerable pressure off him because it’s now much easier to future-proof hardware purchases.

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