My conclusions on VDI and other things
I would like to pass onto you my experiences of running VDI in school over the past two and a half years. I do have to say this has not been a pleasant journey and I do have to question my own motivation for promoting the solution in the first place. In retrospect I believe I was motivated more by a desire to try out the new technology rather than what is/was in the best interests of the school. This soiree into VDI has come at a price to the school both financially and in terms of attitudes to new technology.
The solution chosen was VMware View on 100 Wyse thin clients the details of which I have posted in a previous thread (http://www.edugeek.net/forums/thin-c...structure.html). After initial excitement and subsequent disappointments I have finally concluded that, certainly in our environment, VDI is not worth pursuing. This decision is based not just on cost but more importantly on the usability of the solution. Obvious questions spring to mind; was the network fast enough? Was the back end sufficiently powerful? Were the thin clients powerful enough? Was the software setup correct? Were effective trials done prior to implementation? Did you consider other VDI solutions (bear in mind this was the end of 2007)? The answer to all of these I believe is yes. I am happy for anyone to challenge me on this in the interests of moving forwards but numerous periods of discontinuity experienced by staff and students have taken their toll and the decision to move away from this solution, already taken.
If you were to consider implementing a similar solution the following is a breakdown of the approximate costs:-
Wyse V10L - £280
19" monitor - £85
Keyboard & Mouse - £15
Supporting back end software
VMWare view Premier 100 pack + 3 years SNS - £11,416 + £6,095
Microsoft VDA licensing (needed to run MS OS on a thin client with non-MS OS on it ie Thin OS) - £0.58 per month per client. Based on 100 clients for 3 years (this is a non-perpetual license) this gives - £2088
Back end hardware.
Let’s say 2 ESX servers and a SAN storage solution - 2 x £7,000 + £8,000
Total cost - £79,599. Giving an annual cost of £265.33 per unit
To run for a further 3 years, assuming none of the physical kit breaks down and we do not extend the warranties or replace anything, this would cost an extra £8,183. Annual cost per unit of £146. If we were to factor in backend replacement and warranty extension then this figure would be higher probably in the region of £185 pa per unit.
To give some perspective to this, 5 years ago I purchased 150 Dell GX520s with 2Gb of memory and a 180 Gb HD at a cost of £450 per unit (monitor, keyboard and mouse included). These units are still in circulation. Annual cost per unit - £90.
Are there advantages in running VDI? Yes certainly they address issues of energy efficiency, reduced carbon footprint and ease of management but the cost in terms of usability and fitness for purpose for us was too high. This is not to say we are abandoning virtualisation, quite the contrary, we have made huge strides in reducing our carbon footprint over the past 4 years by virtualising almost our entire server side environment. This has been incredibly successful and I would recommend that you do this as soon as is practicable as it makes you more agile and frees you from the constraints of the hardware you sit on.
So what are we doing with the thin clients and the back end hardware? Well we have refactored two of the ESXs as HyperV servers (those who know me realise just how big an issue that one was!) in a cluster with shared storage and are running virtualised Windows 2008 R2 terminal services on them. They seem to work OK on the Wyse V10Ls no issues with printing, or USB (no need to pay for TCX licensing). Yes there are limitations with some software not running on them but then I'd rather have that than have machines that no-one wants to use. Why have we done this? Basically to make the best of a bad decision and oh yes, cost. The rest of the kit is being used to host just 30 VDI machines that staff use to remote into school. This is the only part of the solution that was successful. If you want to try out VDI then I suggest starting with this (the starter pack + 20) and Ericom are good external access solutions. In the end the decision to use VDI is yours but please be warned you will have to live with this decision for a long time.
What are the lessons I/we can learn from this:-
1. Never let just one person make a decision on the choice of an IT solution. They will always be influenced by their own needs and aspirations. A group decision is always much more objective. Ask people in other schools who have the solution in place, go and have a look. I have personally visited over 50 schools in and around my region, some good some bad, but all with something to offer.
2. Be very wary of being at the forefront of new technology it can reap great benefits but it can also set you back a long way (you only have to look at Sun's attempt at entering the managed service market in education to see that one). You have to ask the question "Will implementing this technology really be of benefit to the school in the long term?"
3. I was wrong. This was a hard one for me to admit but it has to be said. However all was not lost. We have learnt a lot about the technology (and ourselves) and more by luck than judgement we have subsequently made good use of the equipment purchased in the pursuit of technological advantage.
On a completely different tack, if I can indulge with the distillation of my knowledge of IT gained over the past 25 years. Some of these statements may seem brief, obvious, crass and bold but believe me behind them are many years of sweat and tears. Take them or leave them as you wish.
• Buy Dell Optiplex small footprint PCs (GX520, 745, 755, 380 etc) they last 5 years, are quick, robust, parts are cheap (in years 4 and 5)
• Reduce your laptop count, they are a liability.
• Don’t give teaching staff laptops to take home. They don’t use them and it takes money away from devices that can be used by the students. (Yes, I was a teacher)
• Buy the Casio AJ-A130 projectors, no filter, long bulb life.
• Check the alignment of your Smartboards. If they are out and cannot be realigned effectively, get Stelgis to check them even if they are out of warranty. Apply pressure and they will replace them.
• Virtualise your servers with VMWare. Not cheap but definitely the best.
• Use Veeam Backup never goes wrong does what it says on the tin.
• Buy big brand name servers and storage. We use IBM for ESXs and SAN. Switched on 4 and a half years ago, never gone wrong. Best decision we ever made (unlike VDI)
• Use APC 3000 UPS best compromise of cost and effectiveness
• I usually suggest buying perpetual licenses and hate Microsoft but the new Campus agreement due in March may change all of that. Give it a look.
• Never dismiss anything until you’ve tried it.
• Never spend more than £1,000 on a piece of software unless it will be used by a lot of staff. Make sure your IT user group is consulted first.
• Spending more than £500 on helpdesk software is a waste.
• Buy HP managed switches eg 28/2900, 4200, 5400, 3500 series not cheap but do have a lifetime warranty.
• From above Procurve manager plus switch monitoring/management software, excellent.
• Get you fibre checked for problems once every 5 years.
• Upgrade Office and Windows once every 7 years. Unless it’s Vista like in which case wait another couple of years.
• Give System Centre Configuration Manager a try. Makes OS and software deployment so much easier. Yes it’s a bitch to setup, but definitely worth it.
• VMWare ThinApp (Application virtualisation). OK but far too expensive to maintain (high SnS costs). After 2 and a half years of using it, I would not recommend it.
• Stick with technologies you know or have seen working well. Remember ask the kids for their opinion if you are visiting. You’ll always get an honest answer.
• Spend money on solutions that add value to your implementation. As an example the solutions offered by Richard Willis (SalamanderSoft) help integrate the information in MIS into the IT solution. They really come into their own when you have your own AD, Exchange and Sharepoint. Excellent suite of products.
• Use Smoothwall – great product and don’t listen to the rubbish about it not working in a virtualised environment, it does.
• Don’t let staff take sensitive documents off site. Get them to use remote technologies (VDI, Ericom).
• Don’t spend a fortune on a VLE implementation; it’s a waste of money. The issues of VLE use are not necessarily technological but are to do with the mind set of staff. Money is best spent on training.
• Bit of a contentious one but, solutions bigger than a school don’t work. I have seen so many large solutions fall into oblivion over the years, why? Well the only conclusion I can draw is a lack of ownership and support. At least at a school level the ownership and support are there and there are some people who give a damn.
• Always treat schools that blow their own IT trumpet with suspicion. After visiting many of these, I have always been disappointed.
• Stay in close contact with schools in your area. This has two benefits:- first you know where you are in the scheme of things and secondly you can share ideas, costs, problems etc.
• Purchasing huge amounts of kit to reduce balances causes problems 4 to 5 years down the line. This really needs to be hammered home to SLT.
• Related to the above, computers don’t last forever.
• When trying new technology/software do all the testing and then leave/forget it for at least a month. This will get the initial excitement out of the way and you may be able to make a more objective decision. Also incude several members of staff in the testing. If no-one has talked to you about it during that month then it's not worth continuing. We have been doing this for the past 2 years and it has cut down the amount we spend on departmental software by 40%
• Finally one for SLT. If you pay peanuts you get a monkey.
I hope this will be of help to you and that you can avoid the pitfalls highlighted in this rambling.