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Chippewa Valley OKs $5.5 Million to Install Virtual Computers

By fall 2012, some 3,000 Chippewa Valley computers will be connected to the district's new virtual network, which will eventually allow students and staff to access school computers from home.

With its most recent $5.5 million purchase, Chippewa Valley Schools ushers in the era virtual computers, where antivirus software is irrelevant, aging computers work like new and students and staff have access their school computers from the comfort of home.

After two years of research and testing in the technology department, the school board approved a $5,551,926 contract last week that will virtualize 3,000 of the district’s roughly 9,000 computers.

This “virtualization” will take place over the summer and although it will affect computers across the district, students and staff won’t see many visual changes in their classrooms or computer labs. 

“We will be getting a very powerful computerized box that we will put in our head end at the administration building,” said Craig McBain, technology director. “Inside this box will be the ability to create thousands of virtual computers. Our students will connect to this box to operate those virtual computers (in schools and, eventually, at home).”

When students return to school in the fall, they will still use the desktop computers and laptops they always have, but between 3,000 and 3,500 of them will be connected to the district’s virtual network. 

“They will sit down and watch what looks like a Windows computer, but in actuality, they will be using a virtual computer client software,” McBain said.

Older computers will work like new

By using this virtual network, older computers will work like new and the need for antivirus software on every desktop will be eliminated.  

“Our immediate goal is to make older computers on site work like new … giving students more features and giving us better security,” McBain said. “Our computers will perform better, faster in a virtualized environment. We won't have to put antivirus software on each virtual machine, whereas we do on each actual machine.”

When a student logs off their laptop or desktop, the computer will be virtually destroyed and another created when the next student logs on.

These virtual computers will be created on demand. When students enter a computer lab, the system will create 30 to 40 new computers specifically for that class. When the students log out, everything but the documents they saved to the network memory will be destroyed, including any viruses that were accidentally, or deliberately downloaded. 

Students and staff can access school computers from home

Another benefit of virtual computers will be remote access. By December 2013, McBain said students and staff should be able to access their school computers from their home computers, iPads or smartphones.

“In the short term, what we hope to accomplish is to provide better performance to our students, whether they’re using older machines that should now act like new, or wireless laptops,” McBain said. “In the course of a year and a half, our goal is to have any high school student in our district sit in his or her living room with almost any Internet-connected device and, using that device, open up and operate a Chippewa Valley Windows computer.”

With the exception of remote access, the project will be completed over the summer and ready for use in fall 2012. Funding for the project will come from the 2010 Building & Site Fund.

Jenny Whalen May 30, 2012 at 12:36 PM
As a former Chippewa Valley student, I can say with certainty that remote access would have made my life a whole lot easier back in high school. It's expensive, but the benefits seem worthwhile. What do you think?
Jason Borngesser May 30, 2012 at 01:40 PM
I like the virtualization idea, but most, if not all of my kids resources are already available in the cloud. By late 2013 there probably won't be a need for remote access to school computers. 1.5 years seems like a long time to implement remote access. Maybe the district sees it becoming obsolete?
Craig McBain May 30, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Jason, your comment is insightful. The district's intent to make its resourses available to its students through "the cloud" just like the things you mention. This remote access will not just include access to home directories and network resources, but also access to Microsoft Office itself.
Jenny Whalen May 30, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Thanks for clarifying that, Craig. I use the cloud, but don't dare try to understand it.

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