Bolton College plans virtual desktops for students

Further education college wants to extend virtualisation to its 15,000 learners

Learners at Bolton College could have access to its online education resources away from the campus if plans to extend desktop virtualisation to the 15,000 students and apprentices go ahead.

Technical services leader at the college, Irfan Patail, whose department looks after more than 1,100 laptops, 400 thin clients and 500 desktops, said desktop virtualisation is currently available to 700 staff, but plans to extend this to students will be considered over the next few months.

Bolton’s journey to desktop virtualisation began in September 2010 as part of a project to revamp its IT infrastructure after it moved to its new £70m Deane Road campus in August that year.

“We wanted to develop a solution that would provide mobility and flexibility for our end users, and the ability to pick up the desktop from wherever they may be,” says Patail.

After a procurement process, the college, which provides more than over 800 full and part-time courses, selected VMware’s View virtualisation software at a cost of £250,000, plus a “gradual investment to keep the system in line with the college’s needs”.

Since 2010 staff have been able to access their desktops from devices across the college’s seven main centres in the town, as well as at home.

“We have people accessing databases, so instead of coming into the college to activate management information reports, they are at home accessing all the resources,” he says. “It’s ticking the boxes on carbon reduction and can give staff a more flexible way of working.”

The college’s business development team are using iPads to access college data about apprentices when they visit companies in Greater Manchester to arrange apprenticeships. “They can show the employer the potential apprentice,” and so speed up the process, says Patail.

The cost of the scheme is not cheap, and could be the reason why Bolton is the only college he is aware of to have gone down this route, he adds. A further £50,000 of investment in servers and storage will be needed to make provide students with virtual desktops.

“Let’s not be mistaken, it’s a very sizeable investment that is required, but with the flexibility and the overall return that you get in the years to come, we feel it is a sufficient compensation for that cost.”

This article is published by Guardian Professional. For weekly updates on news, debate and best practice on public sector IT, join the Guardian Government Computing network here.

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