In 2012, the Malaysian Ministry of Education commissioned Bitara Induk, Teradici and VMware to look into the viability of large-scale virtual desktop infrastructure [VDI] deployment to rural and inland areas of Malaysia with poor access to electricity and limited internet connectivity.
The successful completion of a pilot phase of the programme in the state of Sabah saw about 25,000 students, teachers and administrators at 1,250 schools across the country gain access to desktops, applications and data, meeting 100 percent of the auditing standards required by the Ministry.
In an exclusive interview with Computerworld Malaysia, Dan Cordingley, president and chief executive officer of virtual workspace specialist Teradici, speaks about the project and the impact that this VDI deployment could create by extending education opportunities to the most remote communities in Malaysia.
Founded in 2004 and headquartered in British Columbia, Teradici's customers include Fortune 500 enterprises and institutions around the world, local and federal government agencies, and cloud and service providers.
Photo - Dan Cordingley President & CEO, Teradici
What are the immediate challenges in bridging the urban-rural digital divide in the school districts in Malaysia?
According to World Bank 2013 data, there are about 20 million Internet users in Malaysia, which equates to 67 percent of the country's population. To enhance the national education system and give Malaysian students greater access to information, the country has outlined plans to deliver 100 percent broadband penetration in the Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2013-2025, while also modernizing and improving digital learning tools at 10,000 schools across the country.
Malaysia's geography poses a significant challenge for educators aiming to reach all children in urban, rural and inland areas. The country's 14 states span two main islands and numerous smaller islands in the South China Sea, and access to ICT varies significantly.
To successfully bridge the urban-rural divide across the country, the Ministry of Education must overcome infrastructure limitations in Malaysia that make it difficult for students to access the Internet in rural and inland areas. In some remote villages, solar electricity, diesel-powered generators and VSAT satellite links are the only power and connectivity resources. In addition, disparities in ICT budgets and staffing must be taken into consideration. For example, in urban areas commercial partners contribute equipment and supplies, while remote sites often rely solely on government funding. And, since IT staff are not located at every school site, remote administration, management and troubleshooting are a high priority for technology deployments.
How does Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) deployment fit into the national vision for social and economic progress?
The Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2013-2025, sets forth an ambitious strategy for improving educational outcomes for students, advancing the country's competitiveness in the global labour market and bridging the urban-rural digital divide.
This project is an excellent example of the strategic use of IT by the Ministry of Education to transform the educational experience in Malaysia in collaboration with Teradici, VMware and Bitara Induk, our systems integration partner. An investment in VDI technology has given 25,000 students, teachers and administrators at 1,250 schools access to applications and data using virtual desktop infrastructure.
With minimal onsite IT setup or modification to the classroom environment, high-performance computing and educational resources are delivered to students and teachers across devices - even in rural and inland areas with limited access to connectivity and electricity.
In record time, the deployment met 100 percent of the rigorous auditing standards required by the Director General of the Ministry of Education, with acceptance by headmasters and teachers at all the schools. Educational resources are now shared among these schools, and IT administrators have been empowered to manage, secure, and broker services to students and staff in accordance with Ministry policies.
Teradici has been honoured to take part in fulfilling a compelling vision for educational parity for thousands of school children in Malaysia.
Why were Teradici PCoIP technology and PCoIP Zero Client devices selected for this project over competing solutions?
The Ministry of Education engaged local systems integrator, Bitara Induk, to evaluate technology alternatives for delivering a high performance, easy-to-use computing experience for students that would be cost effective to deploy and maintain for IT administrators and instructors. They tested the three leading protocol alternatives: independent computing architecture (ICA), remote desktop protocol (RDP) and PCoIP.
Using the Ministry's educational applications, and within the environmental conditions in Malaysia, PCoIP technology proved to be the optimal choice for setting up computer labs with up-to-date content and courseware in each school. When streaming to multiple endpoints, the first two protocols can congest the network. In contrast, running VDI using the PCoIP protocol compresses, encrypts and rapidly transports all user data and computing applications as pixels-only images to virtual desktops in the classroom.
Bitara ultimately recommended a private cloud VDI deployment with VMware Horizon and Teradici PCoIP Zero Clients. Teradici and VMware are long-time strategic partners with a commitment to driving continuous innovation of the Teradici PCoIP protocol as a key ingredient of VMware Horizon in the growing VDI market.
With VDI, most maintenance can be performed remotely, freeing teachers from the burden of being IT managers. And, PCoIP Zero Clients are low maintenance end points well suited to large-scale deployments. Unlike more costly traditional PC hardware, data and applications are separated from end-user devices and securely stored in easier-to-manage data centres. Since PCoIP Zero Clients have no general purpose CPU, local data storage, or application operating system, it's simple for IT managers to install, support or upgrade educational software and applications written specifically for the Malaysian school system.
Could you speak further on how you demonstrated the viability of this large-scale VDI deployment?
The Ministry of Education challenged our team to implement a pilot phase of the program at 120 elementary schools in the state of Sabah, a remote area of the country where solar electricity, diesel-powered generators and 2 Mbps VSAT satellite links are the only power and connectivity resources.
We successfully met the challenge under rigorous rural conditions, consolidating desktops, applications, and data into a simple, repeatable and scalable centralized virtualized desktop infrastructure. Subsequently, we applied lessons learned to introduce virtual desktops at a total of 1,250 schools across the country to: 1) provide each school with an easy-to-deploy desktop solution, supporting centralised content servers to increase IT efficiency, and 2) support diverse 32/64-bit applications and content, including videos, nationally required educational courseware, and operating systems.
How has the VDI deployment impacted the education system in Malaysia?
It has proven to be beneficial for everyone. Students can access rich computing resources and curriculum by logging onto simple, convenient, user-friendly zero client desktops connected to VMware Horizon software. The task of IT management and maintenance is dramatically simplified, resulting in a reduction in resource and budget requirements. And, educators benefit from being able to leverage new digital learning tools to meet high educational standards set by the Ministry of Education in Malaysia.
How are teachers using technology to really improve both the way they are teaching and the way their students are learning?
Teachers have more options, more flexibility and more room for creativity to match individual learning styles and academic levels. For example, they can customise individual and classroom instruction to accommodate varied learning styles, using a combination of digital and traditional educational methods. And, they can more easily address different academic levels without slowing down or accelerating the overall pace in the classroom.
How do you measure the success of this VDI deployment?
Notably, other governments and educational organisations are watching this deployment with interest. And, the industry has recognized the Malaysia Ministry of Education for excellence in IT innovation and best practices with two prestigious awards in 2014: CIO 100 and VMware Innovation.
Together with Bitara and VMware, it's been a privilege for Teradici to assist the Ministry in fulfilling its vision for educational parity in the public school system. Among the key benefits for teachers, administrators and students are:
- Optimised user experience: Equivalent performance to traditional PCs across locations, independent of hardware
- Enhanced learning: Reliable access to applications and content for instructors and students, no matter where they're located
- Affordability: Cost effective for IT to deploy, maintain and scale
- Low infrastructure requirements: Operates efficiently over slow connections, pushing only pixels to endpoints
- Simplicity: Flexible, easy-to-move and easy-to-set-up virtual desktops without local IT expertise
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