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Desktop sharing lets schools save on PC costs

By Rodney Gedda, Computerworld Australia
February 09, 2009 02:50 PM ET

Computerworld Australia - Australian schools have taken to a new form of virtual desktops that allows multiple students to work off a single computer without the limitations and server software associated with traditional thin clients.

Some dozen schools around the country have deployed NComputing's desktop sharing product, including Wodonga South Primary School in Victoria, Plenty Valley Montessori School in Victoria, Brighton Public School in South Australia, MacGregor State High School in Queensland and McKillop College in the ACT.

NComputing's country manager for Australia and New Zealand, John Robinson, said the education market constitutes about 50 percent of the company's business as desktop sharing is well suited for computer labs and libraries.

"The solution offers a middle ground between a desktop and thin client," Robinson said. "People typically utilise only 5 to 10 percent of a PC's capacity so NComputing is about sharing the functionality of a single resource."

NComputing has a direct-connect architecture that requires a PCI card and software on the PC and can support up to 11 users on one computer.

A network architecture is also available which can support up to 30 users running off a PC or server over a LAN.

Robinson said the acquisition cost is about half that of a PC.

"It's not meant for high-end gaming, but it supports full multimedia and office productivity applications," he said. "The PC doesn't have to be high-end, but running RAID is desirable."

NCompting devices support Windows and Linux. Windows users need to be aware of any licensing limitations in having more than one person access one operating system installation.

At Wodonga South Primary School learning was limited by having only four PCs in the school's senior classrooms.

The school's ICT and e-learning coordinator Gavan Brown said the school had tried thin-client technology, but found that maintaining the network and IT support was a problem.

"Our old, bulky CRTs also took up a lot of space in our classrooms, where we had little room to spare. We simply couldn't afford both new PCs and monitors," Brown said.

The old CRT monitors were replaced with LCD monitors and 62 NComputing "stations" were deployed.

"The cost savings were tremendous with the NComputing solution," Brown said. "Even with the expense of the new LCD monitors, we've saved more than (A)$35,000 [US$23,629] just on the initial deployment."

"We're happy with the performance of the NComputing devices, and have substantially reduced the amount of support we need to provide to keep everything up and running. There's also a lot more room for the students because there are fewer desktop PCs, and no more bulky CRTs that generate a lot of heat and take up space."

Brown is now deploying the NComputing solution in the new school being built nearby.

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