Ed-tech companies promote money-saving solutions

Here are several ed-tech products and services aimed at saving schools money.

A desktop virtualization system that can turn one computer into four, and an innovative wireless solution that provides reliable coverage with fewer access points, are among the many new solutions aimed at helping schools implement technology without breaking their budgets. Here’s an overview of some of these latest ed-tech products.

Black Box Network Services says its VirtuaCore Computer Sharing system, which uses desktop virtualization to turn one CPU into four, can save schools up to 60 percent on hardware costs and between 60 and 70 percent on energy costs—while providing computers for more students or staff.

Schools can choose between kits that turn one CPU into either two or four fully functioning workstations without any loss in PC performance, Black Box says. All you need to extend the computing power of one machine to four users are monitors, keyboards, and mice for the other three users.

The list price for the two-user kit is $350, and the four-user kit sells for $800. The company provides a total cost of ownership (TCO) calculator on its website, so you can see just how much money you can expect to save on hardware and energy costs for your particular deployment. In one sample calculation, supplying computers for 40 students to use by purchasing traditional PCs might cost around $97,000 over three years, including support and energy costs, the company says—while using its VirtuaCore solution might cost around $35,000 during the same three-year period.

A new partnership between Microsoft and ViewSonic also taps the power of virtualization to extend computing to students in a cheaper and more energy-efficient way.

ViewSonic’s new MultiClient product gives schools a way to power up to 14 full user stations from a single host server, allowing multiple users to tap into a classroom- or lab-based virtual cloud environment simultaneously, the company says. Powered by Microsoft’s MultiPoint 2011 Server OS, MultiClient can power a full classroom of students with just two small severs.

The solution also gives teachers the tools to manage and interact with students’ desktops, ViewSonic says. Teachers can monitor activity on every workstation; control students’ access to individual programs; share screens for enhanced collaboration; project their desktop to one or all students; lock students’ keyboards/mice and display a message to the class; remotely open or close student applications; restrict internet browsing to a specific lists of sites; and split the screen on one display into two separate displays.

To set up the system, you simply connect each MultiClient Adapter box to a monitor with a keyboard and mouse, and then to the host server through the LAN connection. The ViewSonic MultiClient VMS700 Host Server and VMA20 LAN Adapter are priced at $1,299 and $175, respectively, which includes the necessary Microsoft software licenses.

Another company, CDI Computers, aims to help schools deploy computers more affordably by selling refurbished, yet fully warranteed, computers at a fraction of the cost of new machines.

CDI resells name-brand computer equipment—including laptops, desktops, LCDs, servers, and printers—that was leased to Fortune 500 companies and returned, or is brand-new “end-of-the-line” product inventory that computer companies never sold.

“Whatever you would pay for one computer from Dell, you can get two, maybe three, from us,” said Saar Pikar, senior vice president and general manager of CDI. The company claims more than 9,000 North American schools have bought its fully certified machines.

Another cost-saving strategy for schools is to buy their technology products through a national bidding and purchasing program. One such organization is TCPN (The Cooperative Purchasing Network), which is able to leverage the buying power of government entities in all 50 states—resulting in equal pricing for the smallest entity and the largest buyer alike. TCPN competitively bids and awards contracts to national vendors in accordance with purchasing procedures mandated by state procurement laws and regulations. Its services are available to public and private schools, colleges, and universities, as well as local and state governments and nonprofits. PEPPM offers a similar service for schools.

To help schools and other nonprofit organizations save on internet access, Providence, R.I.-based Mobile Beacon provides 4G mobile internet service at a dramatically reduced rate.

Mobile Beacon’s broadband assistance grant program helps schools receive unlimited use of the company’s 4G wireless service for just $10 per month, paid annually in advance ($120 for the year), plus the cost of the devices used to connect to the network. Mobile Beacon also offers free support services, including assistance in developing an implementation strategy, and free technical support seven days a week.

As for less expensive Wi-Fi service, Ruckus Wireless says it offers schools “smarter, superior Wi-Fi that works.” The company says its wireless routers are less expensive than the equipment from Cisco Systems and other large providers—while providing highly reliable wireless coverage at the same time.

Ruckus’s technology includes patented “smart antenna arrays” in every wireless access point. As a laptop user moves around, any of 19 antennae inside the access point can move to follow the signal, Ruckus says—resulting in a more flexible and reliable wireless connection. This means schools can deploy a Wi-Fi network using fewer access points to get the same degree of coverage.

“To see if the Ruckus ZoneFlex system lived up to the hype, we performed extensive capacity testing and were astounded,” said Joseph McBreen, chief information officer for the St. Vrain Valley School District, in a promotional brochure. “We were able to connect 78 concurrent devices to a single, dual-band 802.11a [access point] without the AP breaking a sweat. Each laptop, iPhone, and tablet device was simultaneously streaming video. … We’ve now deployed some 1,000 APs across 43 sites and have never been more satisfied.”

Another Wi-Fi product that could save schools money is Motorola’s AP6511 802.11n wallplate access point, which allows a wireless LAN to be installed in minutes as opposed to hours, the company says.

Many older school buildings were built before internet access existed, and installation of wireless access points can be complicated, Motorola explains. This wallplate-based access point can be installed using existing CAT5/6 cabling in the wall.

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