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Hosted Desktops in Education: Lower-Cost and Easier-to-Manage Computer Systems and Labs

Hosted desktops can help K-12 schools and colleges increase standardization, decrease hardware costs, make IT management and support easier, and allow teachers, students, and administrators to access their files and applications from anywhere and with any device.

Lack of standardization tends to be a problem in K-12 schools because they usually have a mix of new, old, and older computers (seemingly more so than in the private sector), and these computers may only have the operating systems and applications that they were originally installed with—so the versions of OSes and applications can differ from one computer to the next. Because of this, the files that a student saves to a centralized repository or thumb drive on one school computer may not be compatible with the applications on another school computer, and it can be difficult for students that are unfamiliar with these OSes and applications to learn how to use them when their versions (and therefore their interfaces and feature sets) aren’t consistent between workstations. Hosted desktops, however, allow K-12 schools to provide the same operating systems and versions of applications to everyone, regardless of what PC workstation they’re accessing these resources from.

Hosted desktops also allow school district and college IT departments to purchase low-cost end-user devices such as thin clients and refurbished computers instead of new, expensive PCs, or continue using older computers. Hosted desktops can be accessed from any network-connected computer, thin client, tablet, or smartphone, and they are fully processed and stored on their host servers, so they perform well regardless of how old, slow, or poorly-maintained the user’s device is. In this instance, for example, hosted desktops made it possible for students to access graphics-intensive CAD software and streaming HD video from a 10 year-old PC that only had 256 MB RAM. In addition, thin clients (including fat clients like PCs that are only used to access hosted desktops) last longer, up to 10 years, than the three to five year lifespan of fat clients that handle all of their own processing and storage.

Other benefits of hosted desktops to K-12 schools and universities include:

  • Hosted desktops are easier to manage and support than standalone physical PCs. Thin clients and computers that rely on thin clients do not require as many physical repairs as standalone PCs, since, as mentioned, with VDI the servers handle all of the processing and storage. The centralization of hosted desktops also makes it a lot easier and quicker to implement patches and updates, upgrade operating systems, and deploy new applications to all of the school’s users. Furthermore, hosted desktops are easy to support since most problems with hosted desktops can be fixed simply by provisioning the user a new hosted desktop.
  • Hosted desktops allow students, teachers, and administrators to access their files and applications from anywhere and with any device. The anywhere-accessibility of hosted desktops is especially beneficial to user groups such as: students that want to access school-related applications (especially expensive, specialized applications that most students couldn’t afford to purchase on their own, like Adobe Photoshop, Intuit QuickBooks, and CAD software) from home; college students (mostly) that want to access their files and applications when in class from a personal laptop or tablet; and teachers that want to grade papers and complete other work from home, and that need access to their files and applications (including student records and electronic grade books).