Virtual Desktop Infrastructure - From Idea to Implementation

Room A - Fri 09:15


Darren Platts - Bandon Grammar School
Trevor Collins - Bandon Grammar School


Bandon Grammar School has an award winning Virtual Desktop Infrastructure that assists with teaching and learning.

Background Information:
Bandon Grammar School is a mixed school of c.670 students based in West Cork, c.25 minutes south west of Cork city. The school has a very wide catchment area and has undergone a large amount of redevelopment over the last few years.

Historically, the ICT infrastructure both internally and links outside left some room for improvement. The staff of the school were aware of the need for change. On a voluntary basis, interested staff brainstormed, researched, sourced and implemented a state of the art ICT infrastructure system that is comparable to some third level institutions in Ireland. The overall objective of the development was to ensure that the school had an ICT system that would empower both students and staff with the necessary skills to become active and influential members of society. If completed correctly, this would ensure that the school would also become an ICT school of excellence.

A key goal of our redevelopment was to ensure that any system would be student and teacher friendly. A system only works if it becomes an integral part of every day school life. Users needed to ‘buy into’ the appropriate use of technology for both teaching and learning purposes. We had the unenviable task of reconciling the traditional conflicting key issues of finance available versus our desired shopping list. Any system that we wanted to implement needed to be cost effective and future ready.

A key motivator was the empowerment by management to interested staff in making a positive difference to the school. Staff realised that they were given ‘carte blanche’ to solve any issue that emerged. The management trusted the decisions made by the active members and supported this with the necessary finance where possible.

Staff now had the opportunity to create an ICT system that they could be tailor-made to suit the school ICT curriculum and their teaching methodologies. With forthcoming changes in the computer curriculum, staff worked hard on ensuring that any infrastructural developments would satisfy any potential future curriculum needs.

Problems that staff highlighted included:
• Student access to computers
• Appropriate use of computers
• Maintenance of hardware (Cost & updating)
• Maintenance of software (Cost & updating)
• Storage of work and projects completed
• Security of data
• Maximum safety from the threat of viruses.
• Speed of internet
• Monitoring of appropriate use of computers
• Getting the best return on investment
• Adherence to the school ICT policies and the Data Protection Act.
• Future-proofing the ICT infrastructure of the school
• Empowering students and staff with appropriate skills
• Staff accountability and record of work done for teaching and learning purposes

Current situation:
We have our own servers which use VMWare as a key component to support our virtual desktops. Every teacher and student has an account which enables them to access agreed software from any device either in school or at home. There are different ‘pools’ of accounts which give different groups of students access to different resources. Ours has proven to be a cost-effective, easily managed system which enables the system administrator to oversee user accounts and keep everything updated and future ready.
Our system has been described as one of the best examples of ICT education infrastructure both in the country and in Europe. Since its inception, we have made presentations to various education stakeholders demonstrating the many advantages of Virtual desktop Infrastructure over traditional models. We hope to continue pushing the boundaries of technology to improve teaching and the learning experience for students.

Outcomes and benefits of our system:
The system is bigger, better, faster, cheaper and more manageable than anything else available. The system is a win-win arrangement for the state and all schools. Ours is a proven working model that has greater demands by more users, using more programs than ever before.
Please find below some of the key advantages of using a model based on our own system:
1. The financial implications of the system will save the state millions. The cost benefit advantages of a national based server system to cater of the ICT requirements for all educational establishment’s is simply astounding. I would encourage and doubter to examine how we created our system and any doubts that they could have will be put to bed.
2. The system can be installed on a small infrastructural budget.
3. Schools no longer need to purchase new PC’s as any old PC’s suitable once it can send a key-stroke message to the server. (Which takes minimal PC rom & ram)
4. All updates can be done centrally thus reducing administration time for teaching staff who manage the system.
5. Pools of computers can be tailor-made to suit the individual needs of the teacher, the student, the class and the school.
6. The system can be used by any laptop, tablet or hand-held device. Families no longer need to purchase expensive state of the art devices for schools that use the BYOD policy.
7. The system can be expanded easily to suit the needs of the school.
8. The system is secure.
9. Computers cannot get a virus
10. Schools can update, add or block user accounts as they deem suitable.
11. The system adheres to the best ICT practices and data protection guidelines.
12. Managing student and teacher accounts can now be done by someone with minimum ICT qualifications or skills.
13. Supporting organisations to help the system are all based in Ireland. (Many of whom have already pledged their support to help develop ICT in schools in Ireland.)