The Village Green Virtual Public Charter School - Project Spotlights from Envision Technology Advisors

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Project Spotlights

The Village Green Virtual Public Charter School

The Village Green Virtual Public Charter School is Rhode Island’s first fully virtualized school. Located at 135 Weybosset Street in Downtown Providence, the school uses a “blended learning” model of online curriculum and in-classroom teaching where students learn at their own pace in a technology-rich environment. To help build that environment, this innovative school turned to Envision Technology Advisors.

Envision began working with the Village Green School in June of 2013, approximately 60 days before the school was set to open its doors. Envision was able to provide strategic direction through all aspects of the technology that would be used, including server, desktop and user-facing infrastructure, phone systems, wireless access points, network data wiring, electrical, security software, tablets, interactive whiteboards, and more.

In addition to Envision’s technical expertise, the company’s project management and organizational processes were also valuable resources for this project. Envision worked to coordinate a host of vendors and helped manage changes to the project along the way – including a move to a new building when the first location selected by Village Green School proved unsuitable to their needs.

From a technology perspective, Envision’s expertise with VMware vSphere and Horizon View Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) were critical components of the project. 160 virtual desktops were deployed within the school along with servers and infrastructure to support this virtual environment. These virtual desktops give the students at the Village Green the flexibility and mobility they need to maximize their learning experience. Students can work at their own pace using on-line lessons and resources in the school’s large lab environments, but they can also move to smaller rooms within the school for breakout sessions and lessons with teachers.

Village Green Virtual Public Charter School

One challenge of this project was being able to effectively simulate how the environment would respond when an entire school full of students would all be logged in at once. Because the school uses e-learning software that is highly video dependent and very CPU intensive, we knew that the infrastructure needed to be powerful enough to support this traffic. As students arrived for their first week of school, we quickly realized that even our highest estimates (based on running the e-learning software in our lab environment) wouldn’t cover the true impact that the entire school at full throttle would need to run effectively.

Plans were immediately put in place to keep the school running in the short term by making modifications to decrease system utilization, while long term changes were quickly kicked off to solve any performance issues once and for all. This challenge was met after Teradici Apex 2800 mezzanine cards were added to the blades to offload PCOIP processing. This installation is perhaps one of the first US installs of the mezzanine-based technology in an education setting (learn more about this process).

In addition to the Teradici Apex cards, other unique aspects of the Village Green School’s environment are:

  • Dell M1000e chassis and M620 blades ensure dense computing environment with high-bandwidth and low-latency between server and desktop hosts
     
  • Dell Equalogic storage with 10Gb/s data connectivity between the storage environment and the blade environment
     
  • Atlantis ILIO lets the desktops run out of RAM, allowing for very fast provisioning times and great performance
     
  • ProfileUnity allows for fully non-persistent desktops while ensuring user personality and setting persistence
     
  • Wyse P25 zero clients allow for a stateless and inexpensive end-user compute footprint with full hardware PCOIP support

Future plans for The Village Green Virtual Public Charter School call for an expansion into grades 11 and 12 in coming years (the school currently serves students in grades 9 and 10) and the solutions that Envision architected at the school were done so with this future expansion in mind. Additionally, Envision’s ongoing management of the school’s environment, including proactive monitoring using the Ground Control suite of Proactive Cloud Solutions, will play an important role in keeping the school’s infrastructure working well for both current and future students alike.

“Envision Technology Advisors are a critical partners in the establishment and start-up phases of the school,” states Dr. Robert Pilkington, charter school designer, operator and Head of School at Village Green. “The system which Envision designed and deployed is one which can handle the demands of an entire student body and faculty being on-line and working in the virtual curriculum simultaneously and the Envision system does so without any compromise in functionality.” 

Dr. Pilkington attests that Envision not only designed an optimal computer environment for this “school of tomorrow” but that the team at Envision performed in a way which allowed him to, “Concentrate on school operations, faculty training, family engagement, recruitment of students and teaching and learning rather than worrying about the technology and not knowing whether the system would work when stressed. By doing their jobs well, Envision allowed me to do my job better.”