1.8M Get Computer Lab Time Via Virtualization

How do you roll out computer access to 1.8 million students at $70 per seat? The answer: Virtualization. The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is undertaking a "massive 5,000-school educational computing initiative" to build computer labs and give computer access to almost two million Indian children. But instead of requiring one computer per user, the system being put in place, supplied by NComputing, will allow up to seven users simultaneous access to a single computer.

 Credit: NComputing
Get those images of a bunch of kids crowded around a single keyboard and display out of your heads--that's not how this system works. The system will utilize NComputing's X300 kit that essentially turns a PC into a virtual host. Two X300 PCI host cards are installed into a host PC, with each card supporting up to three users. The cards attach to X300 access devices via "standard Cat 5 UTP or Cat 6 STP cables"--the access devices use only one watt of power each and get that power from the Ethernet cable connections (no external power supply is needed for the access devices). Keyboard, mouse, (optional) speakers, and display are plugged into each X300 access device (the display requires its own power supply; as do powered speakers). Once the software is installed onto the host computer, up to seven virtual desktops can be configured. Each virtual desktop shares video, audio, keyboard, and mouse connections with an access device, enabling up to seven users use of a single PC simultaneously (six users via the access devices and one user on the host PC). USB devices plugged into the host PC can even be configured to be accessed by individual access devices.

 Credit: NComputing
The underlying principle of the X300 system is that modern PCs are so powerful that they are typically very underutilized. X300 posits that since "the vast majority of applications only use a small fraction of the computer's capacity," that capacity can be shared among multiple users.

"The computing labs will be used to teach computer skills and office productivity (spreadsheets, word processing) as well as subjects like reading and math. The entire system will run on the Microsoft Windows Server operating system and use Microsoft Office Suite."

The entire project is being done via outsourcing, including installation and staffing for the labs. When the construction of the labs is complete in "the coming few months," the system will have over "50,000 computing seats." The Andhra Pradesh government estimates that it "will save $20 million in up-front and ongoing costs" and "use 90% less electricity compared to a traditional all-PC solution." As budgets continue to get cut here in schools the the U.S., perhaps this is an approach that can help keep U.S. computer labs running while reducing costs and energy consumption.