To Go Virtual or Not To Go Virtual…

June 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Okay!

First of all the look and feel of my blog has changed, the previous theme got boring very quickly, I will try to keep this one longer! …

Now down to business!

I thought that it would be important for my first post to be about the virtual project that we are currently implementing into our systems at my place of work, if you don’t know where I work then scroll down and read my ‘welcome’ post, don’t let me down, read all the posts!    I think there is a ‘meme’ reference in that last sentence somewhere!

Why Virtual?

So why would we look to go virtual, how will this help us in a West London secondary school?

Well the first major improvement to the way IT will be ran is the way you can simply manage all of the VMs (Virtual Machines) through the management interface;

Just Imagine!

Fellow educational IT Employees, I assume that any software that you need to be on certain computers would just be included with your initial image… correct?

So if a member of staff approaches you and asks for ‘that piece of additional software that is ever so important to be put on all of the teacher machines right away….’ You have one of three choices.

  1. Go around each computer individually, planning down time, and installing the software manually ‘one by one’. Yeah RIGHT!
  2. Create a brand new image (maybe more than one if there are different machine makes), back up all local data and plan downtime to re-image the machines.
  3. Stick two fingers up and go to the pub! (My personal favorite!)

Now imagine you’re running a virtual system… All the teachers are on a windows  7 Virtual Computer… To install the new software (assuming you’re not using xenapp or something similar which makes it EVEN easier!

  1. You open up the ‘image’ of the machine of which the teachers are using (this does not interrupt any users), install the software, and at a scheduled point of which you decide, the current VMs will be ‘destroyed’ and the new VMs with the new software will be available to log in to. This can all be done from the comfort of your own desk, furthermore with a little bit of planning no users will be disturbed. Just schedule the new image to replace the old, over night, and BLAM the software is on the selected machines, like magic!

So from our point of view it is going to be a dream, but what will the teachers and other members of staff get out of this expensive virtual project, because as much as I would love to try and sell it as ‘Come on, it will make our lives easier!’, I don’t think they would buy that!

What can the users expect?

The main question that the staff will chant will be ‘How will it benefit us?’, well simply the speed of the computers will greatly increase, booting into a virtual windows, on average will take just over 30 seconds, this is because we can run high spec ‘virtual hardware’ on older machines. Let me give you a ‘for instance’.

Mrs Blogs over in science has had her HP machine or 4 years, unfortunately (fortunately??) she has never complained to any senior members so she has been stuck with it for a long time. It isn’t running a dual processor, and its on 1GB of ram, its been dragged into running windows 7, not ideal but with the budget restraints, the school cant afford a new one. Suddernly this old machine, is turned into a ‘thin’ client (Okay, okay its a fat client but who is being picky eh?), it is now running a ‘performance addition’ XP, booting a kiosk mode. 1GB of ram will make that small process FLY! … then she logs into a 2GB dual Core windows 7 machine… She is over the moon! See what I’m getting at?

Also as you can re-use the machines, so say good bye to huge refresh costs… but that’s a point ill touch upon in another post. But one to have in the back of your minds!

Another great advantage is one that has been mentioned above, software!

Now we all know that any member of staff in any organization wants their task to be done before anyone else, they are priority, which is okay because us computer engineers don’t do any important work and can drop everything just for YOU…. *rollseyes*

Anyway, with virtualisation, as mentioned above, software can be rolled out quicker, more effectively and with little if any, disruption to the user. The engineers are happy because they can roll it out far quicker and easier, and the staff member gets to have it the day after, in most cases, rather than in a week compared to previous methods … everyone’s a winner!

Thin client of Fat client?

Okay so we have covered why it would be a good idea, now I want to talk about Thin Clients or Fat Clients.

This decision really comes down to money, sit back and think about what type of company or establishment you would be implementing this virtual solution into?

For the Business with money to spend!

Okay so lets say that you have money to spend on your virtual project, you’re not a school that is looking to save money, you’re just looking to implement a faster more efficient system. If this is you I would very much ‘push’ you towards thin clients. Now I don’t have much experience with thin clients but I have seen one company ‘demo’ them, and that’s http://www.10zig.com/ Their products do seem robust, silent and good value, if you have the money to spend, But i must stress that I not bought any of these boxes and I cannot be 100% about how good they are.

Now I think these boxes range from £150 each onwards, and then there is a licensing fee for the kiosk software per machine. I need someone to clarify this in the comments, someone with experience with the machine costs!.

-Edit-

I have been pointed to some information that was originally posted on a website called EduGeek (A very interesting forum, I strongly recommend you all sign up!)

This information was posted by a ‘James’, and ironically it was at his school i saw these thin clients!

The latest figures we have had (based around 30 VDI seats) were around-

£178/thin client (10zig with 3 yr warranty)
So lets say that the cost would be around £200 per machine, including their thin client software. For a company of which have money to spend this may be a tempting offer, however for a school, such as ourselves and most of my readers I would assume. This is near the cost of an ‘actual’ computer, and when you take in to consideration the horrendous costs of the virtual software this simply isn’t going to work!

So you’re looking for a cheaper solution?

So if the above scenario just isn’t you, you may be thinking its time to give up.Well stop right there!

What if i said to you, you could have a fat client, booting a citrix kiosk for free.

As long as you have Microsoft licensing of course, but I’m sure you all do!

Okay hear me out (Read me out?) … before you close the browser and chuckle your way to another ‘less crazy’ blog.

So around your school you have many old computers, ready for the skip… well lets give them a new ‘warp’ of life. As mentioned above all you have to do is create a ‘thin’ XP, or a ‘performance addition’. The following link will give you information on Windows 7 Thin OS Click Here

Additional information on Windows Thin HERE

If you wish to build the image yourself, simply strip the XP down to the ‘bare metal’. You don’t need anything at all on this machine, open up programs and get rid of features such as the calculator, Paint and solitaire! Once everything has been removed. You have your thin/fat client, take an image and you’re ready to roll it to other machines of the same make.

”Okay smart arse, how are we going to create a kiosk mode and boot to a citrix VDI-In-A-Box?’ Well assuming you have already set up VDI-In-A-Box, or similar you can use this brilliant tool that we have come across. Its called “ThinKiosk” (http://andrewmorgan.ie/thinkiosk/)

Check this guy out, he has created a extremely simple to use, thin kiosk to connect with citrix virtual solutions, such as VDI-In-A-Box. No need to PXE booting to expensive software to connect, no need to use script after script after script. This software is completely FREE and open source! Also he is extremely active, so this software is constantly updating and being patched, and for free software rare.

So lets recap on the costs.

Thin/Fat client – £0

Operating System – £0

Thin Kiosk Software – £0

TOTAL – £0

Now i don’t know about you, but that looks like a pretty damn good total costing to me!

To conclude

Going virtual can be an amazing idea for every company or organization, and it may not be as expensive as you think! Obviously license costs are quite high with any virtual system you take an interest in, but you can recoup these expenses because the hardware will never have to be replaced, unless it fails of course, but upgrades can all be done virtually. Also equipment refreshes will save a huge amount of money, the first refresh may be ‘cheaper’ than the virtual system, but when that second ones comes around, and you don’t need to spend a penny, you are starting to recoup the costs very nicely indeed!

Thanks for reading!

I hope this post has been useful and insightful, if you would like me ‘touch upon’ any other software or hardware then please drop me an email. Email address is over on the ‘contact me’ page.

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