Desktop Virtualization Use Cases: Education

By Ephraim Baron

There is perhaps no better use case for virtualized desktops than education.

Computers have become as much a part of today’s classroom as textbooks. Students use computers to receive and work on assignments, to take notes, to research and share information, and to socialize. Schools find themselves forced to provide support for a myriad of operating systems and often for devices, as well. The challenge and cost of procuring, configuring, and supporting student computing can be huge.

Desktop virtualization combined with a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) consumption model is a great fit for education.

By offering Desktops as a Service (DaaS) to their students, schools can reduce cost and complexity while delivering significant enhancements to the learning experience. Rather than the school providing a system, with DaaS students are assigned a desktop virtual machine (dVM) that they connect to over the network.

While this looks similar in many respects to current web-based education portals, it is significantly more powerful.

The virtual machines can be imaged with the specific applications needed to support the classes they are taking while avoiding licensing and support costs of unnecessary applications. The target virtual machine is locked down – no administrative access, no extra storage for non-school files – and optimized for capacity and performance.

Additional security and data loss prevention (DLP) utilities can be layered in to greatly reduce exposure to malware and to prevent unapproved types of data transfers. Unneeded ports and protocols are blocked and stay blocked.

Most students already have one or more computers, tablets, or smartphones they can use to connect to their dVM. If something happens to their primary device such as loss, infection, or hardware failure, they simply need to find an alternate device.

Schools can still provide “computer commons” rooms for general use, but the systems may be either older, low-performance machines or thin/zero client terminals since they are only used for basic I/O and display traffic. Additionally, use of physical facilities is often limited due to staffing limitations. Virtual desktops do not have these restrictions, so dVMs allow learners to work from home or their dorm rooms at times that better suit the student.

Multiple Consumption Models

There are multiple consumption models for desktop virtualization in education.

A school may choose to offer dVMs that are tuned for the specific needs of a course or major. These would exist only for the duration of a class.

With this model, a student might be assigned multiple dVMs at the same time. Alternatively, students may be assigned a logon when they first matriculate that stays with them as long as they remain enrolled. The school could offer dedicated dVMs that are assigned to a specific student and that retain the user’s settings and data. Or they may choose a pooled model where students get a new dVM each time they log in. With both arrangements, students will need to be assigned space on a network file share to store their work.

Additional services can be added to enhance a school’s desktop virtualization offering. Examples include:

  • data backup against accidental or malicious loss
  • collaboration services for group projects
  • video connectivity for remote or disabled students
  • print services to central and/or commercial print shops
  • support of multiple languages
  • third-party support services

Standardization

Standardization of the client platform also allows software companies that serve the education market to move to the cloud more quickly. Instead of having to design for a wide range of client environments and access devices, these companies can optimize their offerings to a common platform. So while users will still have their choice of client, software vendors will not need to update their code every time a new device or operating system is introduced.

People have long recognized the potential of the computer to enhance education. Undoubtedly, much of this promise has been realized. But numerous challenges have lessened or muted many of these gains. The difficulty in delivering content on multiple platforms (Windows vs MacOS vs Linux) and devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile) strains even the best school IT departments.

Desktop virtualization directly addresses these challenges. It provides anywhere access on any device, giving greater flexibility to users and reducing the administrative and support burden on schools.