Why Should a School District Use Virtual Desktops?
School systems can benefit tremendously from the deployment of virtual desktops. Virtual desktops are a technology that can change the way learning occurs in a school district – for the better. The educational benefits have proven especially valuable in our present time, as the Covid-19 pandemic has compelled schools to adopt remote learning. Such mass scale remote learning has not transpired without problems; virtual desktops may be just the thing that makes these challenges easier.
The same advantages virtual desktops offer to school districts also apply to other institutions as well, including state/local government bodies and commercial businesses. So broadly speaking, we’ll be talking about the benefits of virtual desktops in any application.
What is a Virtual Desktop?
First, let’s take a brief look at what a virtual desktop is, for those who are less technical. Most users are aware of the mainstream desktop/laptop computing model because they have used these devices during their education and careers. Each user receives a desktop and/or laptop. This desktop/laptop has an operating system and applications installed on the computer hard drive. When a user uses this device, it is using its own processor, RAM, graphics card, hard drive, and other computer components for processing.
A virtual desktop on the other hand is not tied to the physical computer that you are using. The virtual desktop is run on a server that can be far away. The graphics from that virtual desktop are displayed on your device, and your mouse and keyboard actions are communicated to the virtual desktop. That is why it is called a “virtual” desktop – it may appear that it is running on your device, but it’s actually running elsewhere.
What is Desktop as a Service (DaaS)?
Simply put, DaaS is a cloud solution that offers Virtual Desktops as a service. In order to issue virtual desktops, you can either create and maintain the infrastructure yourself, or buy the service of a DaaS provider. The latter is convenient and productive for a number of reasons; the main one is that you can transfer the burden of maintenance of the infrastructure to the service provider. The benefits are reminiscent of any cloud service. Logical Front is an example of a DaaS provider.
DaaS offers you virtual desktops with its own operating system and applications that you can use. It is as if you get access to a whole new computer from your personal (or office) computer. This virtual desktop is one that you can use from any device and any location with basic broadband or better Internet access, typically defined as “Basic Broadband” with data transmission speeds of at least 25 Mbit/s downstream.
Using Virtual Desktops opens the door for a multitude of benefits, including reduced costs, increased productivity, tighter security, etc. The benefits are mostly similar whether you use your own Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) to deploy the virtual desktops or rely on a DaaS provider to do so, with some unique benefits to both VDI and DaaS.
Let’s see how these technologies can benefit school districts, or any other government or private institutions for that matter.
Virtual Desktops are Easy to Maintain
This is true wherever the virtual desktops are implemented. Since most of the computing activity takes place at a central location – the server – it is much easier for installations, software updates, or any other required changes. Without virtual desktops, IT teams have to go to each physical desktop and make changes, or they use expensive and complex systems management solutions.
When students are learning remotely, it becomes a major burden on the IT staff as well as students to arrange time for hands-on updates. Students, or their parents for that matter, cannot be relied upon to make such changes. When you consider the whole classroom, technical issues will surely pop up with one or more students when they join an online class. This could cause delays and eat up precious learning time. Such technical issues can be avoided with the use of virtual desktops.
It is also much easier to deploy virtual desktops than actual physical desktops. All it takes to create a virtual desktop is a single click (It’s probably more than a single click, but you get the idea). Setting up a physical workstation is cumbersome, considering all the hardware and networking required. Even if you were to issue portable devices, there still should be some setup done on those devices.
Virtual Desktops Reduce Costs
Because they are easier to maintain, they require less IT staff. And by nature, they require less computer equipment, as the hardware is located in a central location, rather than scattered throughout a school campus or at student homes.
Taxpayers frown upon uncontrolled spending of public funds. School districts can better serve their constituents by taking measures to reduce cost and reassure concerned citizens.
Virtual Desktops also allow the implementation of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, where the users bring their own devices and use these devices to access the virtual desktop. This means the organization doesn’t have to bear 100% of the expense of the computing devices, saving tremendous amounts of both capital and operating costs. Students can use a home computer, a personal laptop or tablet, or even a phone as their computing device of choice. Virtual desktops also save IT manpower as they are very quick and easy to deploy. This can reduce the workload of the IT team and therefore mitigate the challenges of overworked IT staff.
Virtual Desktops are More Secure
This is another great advantage of using virtual desktops. Since all the data is stored in a central system, it is less prone to hacking or physical theft. Imagine how risky it is for a school administrator to carry around sensitive student data on his/her personal computer.
Also, the servers at the central datacenter (or server room) are less vulnerable to viruses because of powerful antivirus software, firewalls, and other proactive security measures in place there. Even if a student or teacher manages to harm a virtual desktop, it can be deleted and a fresh one can be created very easily (it is after all a “virtual” desktop).
Virtual Desktops Increase Productivity
We’ve already seen how Virtual Desktops are easier to maintain. Less time doing maintenance means more time doing what actually matters – in the case of schools it means more teaching and learning.
Also, virtual desktops are tailor-made for remote learning (or working), which is prevalent because of the pandemic. You can access the virtual desktops from basically anywhere as long as you have sufficient internet access. Even if we take the pandemic out of the equation, remote learning/working can save time spent commuting, thus making the whole process more time-efficient.
Virtual Desktops also allow access to powerful computing resources, thereby increasing productivity. Not all students can be expected to have the computing resources needed to run the various high-end learning applications, such as AutoCAD or Adobe Creative tools. In fact, some of the economically disadvantaged students don’t even own computers. This is where virtual desktops can come in handy. Students can access the awesome power of the servers of the school district through virtual desktops.
In fact, they do not even need to have a computer, as virtual desktops can be accessed via a variety of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and “thin clients”. Thin clients are computing devices with very little memory, storage, and processing capabilities that are exclusively used to access virtual desktops. They can be cheaper than regular computers and can be distributed to students by the school.
Coming Up Next…
In this blog, we outlined the basic benefits of Virtual Desktops, whether implemented through VDI or DaaS. We have seen that it offers numerous benefits, from ease of maintenance, reduced costs, enhanced security, and increased productivity. In the next series of blogs, we will delve deeper into each of the said benefits, providing you with a clear picture of what your organization can gain through the use of Virtual Desktops.