Virtual Desktop Solution: School District Cuts Cost, Saves Time

A Case Study With Sunnyside Unified School District

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Steven Lerner

A virtual desktop deployment can be challenging, especially in the education field where schools are tasked with leveraging next-gen technologies in order to facilitate a high-quality learning environment. One large school district recently embarked on a journey in order to scale its virtual desktop infrastructure, while simplifying the role of IT in the process.

Initial Challenges Of A Virtual Desktop Environment

Sunnyside Unified School District, the second largest school district in Southern Arizona, serves more than 16,300 students and families. During the past six years, about 300 office staff workers have relied on a virtual desktop infrastructure for coordinating everything from purchasing to student records. It is an important environment to keep operating efficiently and optimally, but there are several complexities in managing it, such as daily maintenance and supporting multiple vendors.

“After several years of maintaining that, it appeared that there was probably a better way of doing the prices,” said Javier Baca, chief information officer for Sunnyside USD. “The licensing costs associated with maintaining a virtual desktop environment is more expensive than it theoretically should be.”

When the previous virtual desktop software became obsolete, Sunnyside USD suddenly found itself in the market for a new solution.

Choosing A New Solution

Baca examined numerous virtual desktop environments, and the organization also explored the possibility of maintaining the current system.

“When we explored what the cost would be to replace that, if we could continue to utilize that storage, that would save a lot of money towards giving our users the upgraded and improved performance that we were looking for,” said Baca.

There were several aspects that Sunnyside USD considered before selecting a new vendor for desktop virtualization, including the nature of its environment. The organization desired a tool that incorporated its existing servers without having to license an expensive solution. Sunnyside USD wanted to automatically detect which hosts needed additional resources, and migrate users dynamically so that everything is properly balanced.

Sunnyside USD selected technology company HiveIO’s Hive Fabric for its virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) ecosystem. This artificial intelligence-ready hyper-converged fabric solution stood out due to its centralized management interface, which meant the IT team no longer needed to go through different storage management utilities.

How The Technology Works

The HiveIO operating system puts all of the management needs and automated dynamic resource allocations within one operating system. The solution is hardware and vendor agnostic, which allows the organization to maintain a VDI ecosystem with a single all-in-one stack. Whatever storage is available to the host that Sunnyside USD installed the operating systems on, it utilizes RAM as the storage location for the majority of its users.

For the end user, this creates a more responsive performance, which is especially helpful because Sunnyside USD has dozens of users living in one host. Previously, if the users were waiting for the disk to respond to certain requests, it could create some latency that can cause some delay and instability. With the new solution, the users don't see any performance degradation when they're doing intensive activities.

With everything under one panel, it really is scalable and efficient because the system is able to dynamically detect when one particular host is running low on RAM or processing power.

“Because this is all on a single operating system, the installation takes literally seconds,” said Baca. “Templating of the virtual machines is very fast and efficient. It's more efficient than the traditional method of managing a VDI ecosystem because everything is built into the interface.”

Ease of management has been another capability of the solution. It has saved lead technicians a lot of unnecessary management time. The technology has also allowed Sunnyside USD to update its virtual desktops from Windows 7 to Windows 10, which is a more secure operating system.

Return On Investment

Since switching to the new solution last year, Sunnyside USD realized numerous benefits. The organization avoids having to pay expensive licensing costs for the previous technology because of a multi-year agreement with the new vendor that has built-in cost savings. The only other cost that Sunnyside USD has to maintain is its Microsoft virtual desktop license costs, which is built-in to its overall Microsoft agreement.

Sunnyside USD estimates a 50% total cost of ownership savings due to its ability to leverage existing hardware for this process.

“I no longer have to replace both servers and storage network that we utilize because the solution is so flexible,” said Baca. “I was able to continue to use that hardware and not be forced to upgrade it.”

Perhaps the most significant ROI is that the solution allows the IT staff to save a lot of time. Baca estimates at least a 25% decrease in worker hours associated with managing virtual desktops.

“My staff will save a lot of time in terms of how much time was invested in rebuilding a virtual machine or recomposing those machines. We don't have to do that any longer. The system handles that all automatically on its own,” said Baca. “Their time saved and the ease of the simplicity gained by having everything in the interface is significant in terms of making my department run more efficiently and being able to free up more time to do other work that used to have to be dedicated to managing all the virtual desktops across our network.”

Advice To Other IT Leaders

Over the next few years, the virtual desktop market is poised to grow. With more organizations looking for vendors in the space, Baca suggests that organizations seek a partner who understands your specific environment and needs, because every network is complex and has its own unique characteristics.

“My advice is to be persistent in building a relationship with service providers and these vendors,” said Baca. “There are out-of-the-box packages that can be purchased that give you what you're looking for, but many times you're forced to update and upgrade a lot of extra components in order for you to meet the requirements of this particular solution. Don't take the first solution that's offered to you. Be persistent in working with those vendors and find the one that is going to work with you and customize their system along with you to meet your particular environment and your environment needs. Take the time to have the conversations with the providers, and you should be able to find one that meets your specific needs.”