The Enumclaw SchoolDistrict in Washington State was the first district in the state to
implement the state’s new online testing standard for reading. The district’s
IT department had to determine how their technology infrastructure was going to
support these new required tests across eight separate schools and support
offices with 4,200 students and staff members.
The IT team decided upon a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
(VDI) solution. Chad Marlow, Technology Director for the Emumclaw School
District said, “We decided to go the VDI route to solve some of our software
management issues, in addition to the immediate problem of the state testing.”
There were other factors behind the decision. The first was
money. The school district struggles with decreased funding as years go by.
Marlow said VDI was a great solution to this problem because it allowed him to “put
in refurbished desktops or zero clients or thin clients that can last eight to
ten years and maintain the same excellent user experience that they had
Another goal was also to give every student the same
experience. “Every student who logs into VDI has the same experience,”
according to Marlow. “They’re all running the same software versions. They all
have the same software versions.” This also makes it easy to troubleshoot on
the technology side.
“When I arrived here
at the organization six years ago we were a complete physical infrastructure
with no virtual infrastructure at all,” remembers Marlow. “Within a couple of years we virtualized
all of our servers and we started to think about how we could solve the problem
of an unmanaged environment.”
VDI was an easy choice for the school district according to
Marlow. “At the time we virtualized our servers, we went with VMware. Citrix
and Microsoft with its Hyper-V were just coming into the landscape. We made the choice to go with VMware when we
virtualized our servers. VDI with a VMware solution was a no brainer to us. We
didn’t want to run two architectures. So running VMware view and the VDI
infrastructure was really easy for us.”
The second decision they made was in regard to storage. “When we virtualized our servers, we purchased
a SAN with spinning disks, sort of a legacy storage array. It was kind of
innovative at the time but that was three or four years ago,” according to
Since their existing solution was getting a little long in
the tooth and they knew from previous research that VDI requires quite a few I/Os
if you’re running 500-1000 desktops. So they started researching solutions and came
up with three types:
- The legacy
The hybrid combining spinning disks and flash-based
100% flash-based storage
“We didn’t really know what we wanted at the time so we
released a request for information (RFI) to 12-15 manufacturers of SANs and the
vendors that sell them.” recounts Marlow.
They narrowed the list down to two both Tintri and Nexgen. Both of those met requirements.
“We did a ‘bakeoff’ between Tintri and Nexgen, where they
both provided demo units and actually had them installed in our data center at
the same time,” Marlow said.
“We ran the exact same tests against both of them. Tintri
showed itself to be the right solution at a great price point,” according to
Marlow. “It was hard not to choose Tintri because they were far and way the
best. We also did some hardware tests. We pulled drives. We pulled power
supplies and processing modules. Each time we did something, we got a call from
Tintri support that something was wrong with our unit. With other vendors, we
had to initiate the support call. With Tintri, it was them initiating the
support call for us.”
The TintriT540 appliance the school district has in place stores 100% of their
virtual environment including both servers and desktops.
VDI pilots and deployment
Marlow and his team conducted two VDI pilots, he explains, “When
we first purchased the unit, we did an initial pilot with about thirty desktops
and we made them available for one of the teachers out in the high school to
use. We had his students do some testing with that. Once that was successful
then we went ahead and deployed 250 virtual desktops and had them available for
students to use.”
The school district deploys mobile carts of laptops for
student use across their schools. Students log into their VDI testing
environment using those laptops to take the Washington State standardized
From there they initiated a second phase, which rolled out an
additional three hundred desktops, which are available in student labs
throughout campus. Then they rolled out to the secretaries and other building
administrators in different schools.
Marlowe said, “We have a relatively complex software
environment, so we wanted to start small. We created what we call a general
education pool. It’s all of the applications a student would need when they log
in. If they’re not a student who requires AutoCAD or Photoshop or another specialized
application, they can get that desktop in labs or in classrooms. We took a
lowest-common-denominator approach to find a package of software that would
meet most student needs.”
After completing an acceptance test plan, Marlow and his
team are targeting other school district areas for VDI. For example, Enumclaw
School District’s Career Technical Education (CTE) program is a very large and
specialized department that uses complex software including AutoCAD and Adobe
products. CTE is due to move to VDI after phase 2 of the overall VDI desktop
One challenge thus far in the district’s VDI rollout is to
provision a single application to a VDI desktop. Marlowe is also looking at
building up their wireless network to better support the additional traffic
that VDI desktops generate.
Looking forward, Marlow sees another three hundred desktops
going to VDI by the spring 2014 in support of more state educational online
testing and predicts that by Spring 2015 that 80% of the school districts
virtual desktops will be virtualized.
Marlow says, “The biggest cost savings for us is at the
building level. Our buildings struggle with doing computer replacements. What
we can do now is, instead of outfitting a lab of thirty physical machines and
having to replace those every four to five to six years, we can install zero clients and, for a lower initial cost, have a ten-year
life span of that lab so the ROI is huge. Once you install those zero clients,
they provide the same user experience and the same quality over that ten-year
While the Enumclaw School District had to provide high-powered
servers in their data center, the move to VDI still saved them money in their
building and district budgets.
VDI as an educational platform
Marlow and his team were successful in implementing VDI. Students
are now able to take the Washington State reading test online without a hitch.
In fact, the Enumclaw School District’s VDI implementation is being used as an
example for other Washington State school districts of how VDI can help school
districts save on support costs in days of ever tightening budgets.