Inexpensive and Stable Computing Environment

John Orbaugh, Executive Director of Technology, Tyler Independent School District
John Orbaugh, Executive Director of Technology, Tyler Independent School District

John Orbaugh, Executive Director of Technology, Tyler Independent School District

As a K-12 public school system, we face a lot of challenges. Challenges in the classroom, in our community and from the state and federal legislature. There seems to be a perverse pleasure enjoyed by legislative bodies that reduce budgets and increase unfunded mandates on public schools. These financial restrictions have a heavy impact on school district technology as we have to run our operations on short staff and tight budgets. Because of these factors, I must choose carefully the technology we deploy in our district so that I don’t over burden our technology staff or break the budget. EMC’s products help me protect my staff and our budget while providing the technology that is at the core of many of our systems.

In order to provide for the instructional and business needs in our district, we use four EMC products. First, we have EMC XtremIO that is at the heart of our virtual desktop project. We use virtual desktops to provide an inexpensive and stable computing environment for both our students and staff including our superintendent. Second, we use an EMC VNX storage array to support our virtual servers. Next, we have an EMC Isilon storage array to centrally house the video from our security camera system as well as to provide student and staff file storage. Finally, we make use of an EMC Avamar system for off- site backup of the virtual servers and other vital databases.

Finding a vendor to help us successfully deploy all of these great systems was another challenge we faced as we began to think about the technology we needed to support our district. We had actually been using virtual servers, albeit on a different vendor’s storage solution, for a number of years when we began looking at converting our aging fleet of PCs to virtual desktops. As we started to survey the available solutions, and zero in on the desired products, I asked my network of school district CTOs and vendors for recommendations on partners to work with. From that list, we talked with a number of potential partners and invited two into our district to show us what they could do.

“It is very important for both the customer and vendor to have a good understanding and appreciation for each other”

Both potential partners were asked to set up a small proof of concept sample of virtual desktops in the Technology Dept. My Network Services group would work beside these partners to both provide the knowledge of the local network needed for them to have a successful PoC and to learn the depth of their skill set and knowledge of the products they were proposing. As the process unfolded over about a three month period my staff was able to determine that one vendor was “more show than know” while the other vendor demonstrated a depth of competence, honesty, trustworthiness and skill that we would need in order to successfully deploy our virtual desktop project. However, I was still not ready to start writing purchase orders. The next step I took was to establish a larger pilot program.

In the pilot, we spread some virtual desktops around the district to get a better picture of the amount and type of equipment we would need. The deeper pilot allowed my staff to build some important relationships with the partner and for the partner to learn more about the skill level of my staff. I believe that it is very important for both the customer and vendor to have a good understanding and appreciation for each other. If all goes well you will be working together for a long time. As in any courtship, the more you know of your partner the better chances for a long and happy relationship.

Since the virtual desktop project was successful, we felt confident to continue to work with them on other projects. Our confidence had grown through the virtual desktop project because not only had we gotten a view of their staff and skill set, but also into the external resources their company had as partners. As with any marriage, you not only marry your spouse, but in a very real sense, you are also married to their family. Knowing the quality of the vendors who were backing them was going to let us know if we had “good in-laws”! Happily, the extended family was as good as could be hoped for. In our case, as the project progressed, we did select the one partner for the virtual desktop deployment, but that was far from the end of our work together.

The confidence gained by the one project led us to continue the relationship as we dealt with a much needed installation of an off-site backup system and upgrades to our security video system and storage array for our virtual servers. As we clicked off each successful project, we gained confidence in our partner’s capability to deliver on their promises.

Today, four years after we began this journey, we have expanded our work together into other technology product lines. Each and every project comes with the same expectations around delivery and performance. I would not be quick to move to someone else even if there was a small misstep simply because of the confidence and trust that has been built between us. Picking a good partner to work with can, and probably should, be a slow process. However, the payoff at the end made the early work well worth the effort.