Mental Ward

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Helping Kids Do More -- a Lot More

Long time, no blog. Sorry about that; I've been out of town a number of days on various job-related projects, and catching up on the work I missed while I was out on the other days. I wanted to tell you about one of those projects.

Yesterday I was in Baltimore, MD, at an elementary school that's using an extremely interesting virtualization technology. The school, Windsor Hills Elementary, has 200 students. Like most schools, they're struggling with funding. In order to get more computers in the classroom, they're using a device from nComputing that allows up to three computer stations to share the resources of one desktop. The device is a little black box, about the size of a modem, with a big "X" on top. The devices are hooked up, via standard ethernet, to a half-size PCI card added to the host desktop. The devices have a monitor, keyboard and mouse plugged into them. They are responsible for virtualizing the desktop image, pulling it from the host, and pushing it out to the workstations.

The school is using the X300, and in the classrooms I visited, there were two units hooked to a garden-variety IBM desktop with 512MB of RAM. Thus, three students were essentially sharing one computer. I interviewed a number of folks there, including the principal and a systems administrator; they both said the savings over buying a full desktop were substantial, and they couldn't have done this without the nComputing device. Instead of one or two computers per classroom the old way, they will now be able to double or triple that number in the future, giving more kids more time to use computers. Without this, that simply would not have happened.

Note also that these are standard desktop computers, not quad-core screaming servers or blade firebreathers. You don't need to upgrade hardware in general (although the school system is strongly considering doubling the RAM in the host desktops to help out), and don't need to add a single server in your datacenter to use the nComputing devices. Very, very cool.

From what I could tell, the students didn't notice any difference between working at the desktop computer and working at the nComputing workstation. They were playing games, surfing the Internet and doing schoolwork, and never knew what was going on in the background. In my opinion, this is groundbreaking technology, and something to get very excited about.

One more note: I was there with a colleague, and we were videotaping our visit. We'll be putting this together and releasing it soon on the Website as a story. Keep an eye out for it, as well as other video content.

Posted by Keith Ward on 04/17/2008 at 12:48 PM


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