The Rehab Group is an independent non-profit which provides training, employment, health and social care, and commercial services that benefit over 50,000 people each year in Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, the Netherlands and Poland.
Rehab Group delivers training and education to over 5,000 students around Ireland, including many who may otherwise find it difficult to gain employment and to develop the skills to advance their careers through its training and education division, National Learning Network. It is Ireland’s largest non-governmental training organisation, with centres in almost every county.
Training and education centres are continuously under pressure to ensure they can provide access to the best computing resources while also keeping costs low. In late 2011, Rehab Group engaged with a number of companies to design and deliver a nationwide solution that would enhance their existing provision of FETAC-accredited courses to the students of National Learning Network. Due to local bandwidth constraints, the proposed solution needed to be self-contained in each training centre.
Citrix Gold solution advisor, Unity Technology Solutions, worked closely with Rehab Group and National Learning Network to propose an innovative and elegant approach, which would address not only the requirements of the brief but also would have a more far-reaching effect. Citrix® VDI-in-a-Box™ was chosen, as it makes desktop virtualisation easy and affordable for small and medium-sized organisations, without sacrificing performance. It can be deployed quickly, to ensure high availability without requiring shared storage. Prior to the deployment of the VDI solution, students and instructors were exposed to a variety of issues, including:
- Slow and dated PCs, lacking the ability to run current software titles
- No portability between workstations – students’ course material was stored locally
- Significant downtime in the event of PC failure
- Inconsistent learning experience both from a national perspective and within individual classrooms e.g. multiple finance packages, multiple versions of applications
- Updating, installing or uninstalling software locally on each PC was logistically very time consuming
National Learning Network wanted to provide the same quality in all its training centres, but the traditional practice of continuously investing in new PCs in order to run the latest software was expensive and the hardware would become obsolete within a couple of years.
As CITO, my primary focus is ensuring that Rehab Group’s business needs are met. As a result of an evaluation process in 2011, I concluded that continuing to invest in new PCs to run the latest software was likely to inhibit our ability to sustain the quality of service our students have come to expect. The VDI solution addresses these concerns, by utilising existing PC hardware to give students a fully customised virtual desktop, accessible from any workstation, helping to reinforce National Learning Network’s position as a premier training provider.
Gary Merrigan – Chief Information & Technology Officer, Rehab Group
During the design process and the proof of concept, it was important to verify that the VDI solution could meet the needs of both the instructors and the students. It became apparent early on that the VDI-in-a-Box solution achieved this, and the feedback from the instructors who were involved in the design and proof-of-concept process reinforced this view.
The VDI solution enables each of the course instructors in National Learning Network’s training centres to provide customised desktops to students based on their individual needs, skills or progress on a course, and not by the constraints of their computer. Students choose from a ‘software menu’ that is determined by instructors who decide what is needed for the course.
An important aspect of National Learning Network’s service delivery entails provision through a model of what Rehab Group calls blended learning, which is a mix of distance and in-classroom learning. The VDI-in-a-Box solution facilitates those students who do not attend training centres regularly. Blended learning students, who receive a significant amount of training in their own home, benefit from a “classroom-like” learning experience regardless of their log-on location or the device they use.
National Learning Network is continuously evolving its technology to meet the needs of its students, enabling people to fulfil their own potential, complete courses and progress to employment, further education or training. Flexible teaching and learning methods are used and tutoring is tailored to meet the needs of each student. The VDI solution provides an agile environment that can be customised to suit the needs of individual students. The environment fully supports a range of accessibility options and users can also save their own desktop preferences such as font size or colour to be automatically available upon log-in.
VDI-in-a-Box also enables the National Learning Network to provide up-to-date software such as Microsoft Office in the classroom, as well as specialist packages such as Autodesk and AutoCAD, which all work seamlessly within the Citrix VDI environment. Citrix VDI-in-a-Box has proven to be extremely cost-effective for Rehab Group and the National Learning Network as there is no need for a significant capital investment in hardware and architecture. Centres can continue to use existing PCs without having to upgrade. The VDI environment provides a centralised means of quick implementation of changes to reflect updated curricula through the provision of new software, the update of existing software and the removal of obsolete software.
These curriculum updates reflect the market and employers’ expectations as well as students’ needs. Ultimately, the ethos of National Learning Network is to provide a unique and supportive environment built around the students’ needs. The implementation has been so successful, that National Learning Network plans to roll-out VDI-in-a-Box to all 50 of its centres around Ireland. The project will ultimately benefit 5,000 students across the country.
National Learning Network has consistently positioned itself as the leading provider of education, training and vocational skills services to people who are disadvantaged. Our ability to respond to the needs of our students and the market-place is paramount. We recognise that technology plays a central role in our service provision and Citrix VDI-in-a-Box has enabled us to future-proof our position as a first-class training provider. Technology plays a central role in our service provision and Citrix VDI-in-a-Box has enabled us to future-proof our position as a first-class training provider.
Marie Kelly, Director of Training & Employment Services, National Learning Network