“You say you want a revolution?” the Beatles once asked the world.  In the world of desktop computing, the answer is “Yes, we want a virtual revolution.” By definition, revolution is a fundamental change that occurs in a short period of time. Education in the United States is continuously evolving to keep up with learning through technology and innovation. Yet, while desktop virtualization has been around for many years, the concept is only now making its way into the education sector.

The NOW Generation Needs IT now

Virtual Desktops Infrastructures (VDIs) come in two flavors, on premise (usually referred to as VDI) and off premise (referred to as hosted).  There are hybrid options that combine the two along with the ability for remote managed services to be layered on top—but this article will focus only on the two base options described above.

In an environment where information technology staff is tasked with servicing a number of different audiences: students, educators and a varied group of stakeholders with options to scale; virtual desktops have become increasingly popular and offer the robust infrastructure each audience requires. Furthermore, VDI and hosted virtual desktops are scalable. Administrators have the flexibility to strategically migrate workloads to the cloud as needed.

A Case for the Cloud-Based Desktop over VDI

Hosted virtual desktops allow for a pay per use option. The flexibility of this model can help control the fluctuating costs of an education budget cycle. In the summer when the student/teacher population is low, the IT administrator can reduce the commitment level and only pay for what is needed.  Once school starts again in the fall at full capacity she can spin it up to optimum levels in a matter of minutes/hours. This saves costs and allows for a purpose-built solution based on real-time information.

The cloud revolution has made virtual desktops available as an affordable operational expenditure. This has expedited the growth of educators taking the leap into the cloud.  Gone are the days of the Apple II and your floppy disk enjoying a game of “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” This creates an opportunity for new players to build hosted virtual desktops on next generation hardware, which can compare to and outperform the long-standing Goliaths in the virtual desktop infrastructure space.  In the new age of computing, desktops are now able to be mobile, on-demand, and have computer processing units (CPU) and Random Access Memory (RAM) options. The virtual desktop revolution is the new age of learning and innovation.

The ME Generation Learns IT Differently

In a generation, students have gone from needing platforms, to supporting emerging technologies to demanding platforms that will support emerging technologies.  In the 1990s you took a disk the size of a CD to the computer lab to write your term paper.  The idea of buying a computer to have in your room was revolutionary. In the early years of the millennium, IT advice sounded something like this “Dude you’re getting a Dell.” But nothing has changed as much as our ability to network, share and store data using tablets and mobile phones. Now, with virtual desktops students can access all of their applications and resources in one place…the palm of their hand.

With mobile devices the classroom is no longer limited to the four walls of room 101.  Students now come with notebook computers, tablets and phones that are powerful enough to support high resolution video and other memory-rich applications. Firing up Skype or FaceTime to show off your new dress is a matter of convenience. Pulling up a Word document to write a paper or take notes on your tablet is expected.  Many K-12 and educational institutions have Apple devices in their environment but educational software is not compatible – hosted virtual desktops allow even a Mac to be running Windows applications.

Keeping Students’ Hands up but Networks Locked Down

Virtual desktops allow IT administrators to build end user applications and resources that can be accessed on any endpoint device that has internet connectivity.  While the revolution is here and it came quickly, building in the cloud gives administrators a better sense of security.  Students and teachers are now hopping on and off hotspots and carrying malware from place to place using these endpoints.  Hosted desktops allow administrators to secure the desktops and applications in the cloud.  Virtual desktops also eliminate the need for IT help desks to spend time trying to troubleshoot end user devices. You go from desktop management to data center management overnight with a desktop user community’s high touch demands.

From a mobile phone or tablet to a standard desktop or client (thin or zero), your education end users want it all and they want it now. Watching the country move from dial-up modems, to DSL, to now having cable companies deliver content at speeds ranging well past 100 MBps, is almost the equivalent of watching the evolution of robots in the Terminator movie franchise metamorphose from Arnold’s Schwarzenegger’s T-101, to the shape shifting T-1000 and finally to the nano-hybrid Terminator T-3000. And much like a fictional hybrid human/cyborg tasked with sustaining modern civilization, hosted virtual desktops can safely and securely support the digital revolution in education.

For the latest in educational tech trends, check out EdTech Magazine for the latest and greatest in EDU.

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