The Learningstation.com (LSC), of Charlotte, N.C., has launched a software subscription service believed to be the first of its kind for schools. Beginning this fall, LSC is offering state-of-the-art software running remotely from the company’s servers and delivered to schools via the internet.

A new twist on the idea of network computing, LSC’s model is intended to let schools use the latest software applications without having to invest a small fortune in new computers. As with thin-client computing, LSC’s service also is expected to make the job of managing a school’s computer network easier.

Participating schools will subscribe to a set of office and education applications running on a remote server cluster leased by LSC. The servers are housed at the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina, one of the largest hosting facilities on the East Coast and a leader in the Internet2 initiative.

The LSC servers run Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition (TSE) and a companion product called MetaFrame, which is a thin-client architecture from Microsoft Corp. and Citrix Systems, Inc. Schools will be connected to the cluster via a high-speed link over a frame-relay network, and the applications will appear to be running locally on their own machines.

Jim Pennington, a spokesman from LSC, said users will see an LSC icon when they log on to their machine. Clicking on the LSC icon will call up icons for the various applications a school has subscribed to, which then will deliver a whole new desktop environment to users. The service will work on any PC down to a 286, Pennington said.

The service kicked off in September at Lexington City Schools in North Carolina. Larry Burwell, director of technology for the district, said he believes LSC’s thin-client model will extend the life of the older machines while improving network security and reducing the district’s total cost of ownership.

“We see this as a way to answer all our concerns,” Burwell said.

The district’s 1,800 computers are a blend of Macs and old Intel 386- and 486-based PCs running Windows 3.1. Through LSC’s subscription service, company officials said, these older, mixed-platform desktops will be able to access the most up-to-date 32-bit applications flawlessly.

Because the software resides on the LSC servers, Burwell said, controlling the integrity of the network and keeping software current should require only a fraction of the cost and time it would take to manage those applications locally. With only two technicians to oversee the district’s local and wide area networks, he said, that should make a huge difference.

Schools that opt for LSC’s service can choose from a variety of curriculum software and licensing agreements, plus Office 97 and other Microsoft applications.

Packaged options include curriculum software from companies like The Learning Co. and Skillsbank, Pennington said, and the service includes internet access, support, and teacher training.

The Learningstation.com
http://www.learningstation.com

Microelectronics Center of North Carolina
http://www.mcnc.org

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

Citrix Systems, Inc.
http://www.citrix.com

The Learning Co.
http://www.learningco.com

Skillsbank Corp.
http://www.skillsbank.com