I am at BETT the largest education IT show in Europe for primary and secondary education , and attended by many IT Professionals who work in schools. As you can imagine we get a lot of very interesting questions and Simon and I are there to field them as best we can. I also had help from two ICT administrators who have rolled out Hyper-V and System Center at their schools..

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Dave Coleman (Twynham School) and Alan Richards (West Hatch High School)

We saw a lot of confusion about virtualisation, not so much the “mine is better than yours” but more a lack of understanding on what to virtualise and why.  I got quite a few questions on other kinds of virtualisation like VDI, but for many schools remote desktop the business of providing an identical stateless desktop to a large group of people (e.g. the pupils )is very more appropriate and efficient:

  • the terminal or old PC can easily be swapped out.
  • Pupils can sign in anywhere
  • the desktop resets to its initial state when a pupil logs out
  • a few backend servers can support most school population leading to better control of power usage and in summer hot PCs running in hot classrooms only add to the stress on children studying for exams (assuming PCs are swapped for remote desktop devices).

A variation on a theme I discussed with one school was the catchily titled “Remote Desktop Remote App” which is where the application is  run on a remote desktop server  and shows as an icon on the desktop or can be access form a portal including SharePoint.  Unlike application virtualisation (App-V) the application runs on the server and there connectivity needs to be maintained while the application is used but this does mean that you can run a heavy duty application on a remote desktop device or old PC.

What amazed me was how leading edge many of the schools where, they are already largely virtualised, they are not only running the latest versions of SharePoint and Exchange but are really using the new features to reduce costs and enhance the pupils learning experiences (Dave and Alan being great examples of this). You could argue that schools get the licenses at a very large discount (which is good as we are paying for education), but many organisations with software assurance have access to the latest products but are not rolling them out.  I can also assure you that there are typically only two or three IT Professionals per schools so how are they doing this? I am not really sure so Simon and I have their names and addresses so we plan to interrogate interview them, to find out how and why.

What really amazed me was the appetite for Office365 - Many schools have already opted to use Live@Edu a hosted e-mail system designed for schools and this is essentially the next step for them.  I say this because I see a lot of concerns about privacy of data in the cloud, and yet teachers and local authorities don’t see any concerns with these cloud services holding sensitive information about children provided the data centre is inside the EU and therefore compliant with the data protection laws of the UK and Europe