October 15, 2013
Teachers Talk - Multi User Workstations, the GreenBridge way
Colin Hill, Director of Computer Services, Canadian University College, Lacombe, AB

Back in March, 2009, I wrote an article for CAT~net that introduced you to NComputing and their solutions to turn one desktop computer into multiple workstations.  Since that time, we have been using various of the NComputing devices for the majority of our student-access computers at Canadian University College and Parkview Adventist Academy.  While the solution has served us quite well and we have definitely saved lots over the alternative of deploying individual machines, there have been some challenges through the years.  We have found that most of these have been due to software compatibility issues between new Windows updates, the NComputing software and/or our environment running the Novell client and other software that has not been certified for use with the NComputing platform.  So, when we heard about GreenBridge and the Direct Virtualization solution they provide, we signed up for a pilot.
 
We had them send us a GreenConnect 10-Pack and deployed it in our library, replacing a couple NComputing stations. We have also been doing a test with the newer NComputing M300 devices, and we have found that the GreenBridge setup has been more stable and faster, and has provided a better user experience. Both of these setups use Microsoft’s Windows Multipoint Server (WMS) as the host operating system.  NComputing devices add on top of that their own proprietary hardware and software. This is where we see a great strength in the GreenBridge system. They supply pre-tested and compatible hardware and do not use any proprietary software on top of the WMS. This means that there is less potential for conflicts and crashes.  Cost for the GreenBridge solution are comparable to what a similar number of NComputing stations would cost, but becomes very compelling at the 8 or 10 station level.  The cost for a 10-Pack is about $3000, to which you would need to add your monitors, keyboards and mice.
 
As mentioned, the GreenBridge GreenConnect packs use Windows Multipoint Server installed on hardware that they have tweaked to ensure adequate memory, graphic support, and processing power to support the number of users the system is rated for.  Each keyboard and mouse connects into a USB//audio hub that they supply.  This hub also has an audio in plug for a microphone and a speaker or headphone out plug.  It also has an additional USB port that can be used for a thumb drive or even a USB headset.  These connections then allow each hub to function as a separate workstation, with the monitor being directly connected to a graphic card in the host computer (enough dual-head graphic cards are included to host the number of users supported by the pack).
 
GreenBridge supplies all that is necessary to have the system installed and running in short order.  They include the monitor cables, some 5m and 3m ones so that you place the stations further apart than the regular 2m ones would allow.  USB extension cables are also included, again to enable station placement up to 5 m from the host.  Once the hardware is setup, the host can be started and will walk you through the configuration wizard so you can customize the system to your local requirements.  Licensing for WMS 2012 is included, which provides a user desktop experience similar to Windows 8.  If for some reason you are not ready for that, WMS 2011 can be substituted, which gives a Windows 7 desktop experience. Either version will allow any software to be run that will work on any regular Windows desktop.  Several new features are advantageous in WMS 2012.  Each monitor can be split in half with their own keyboard and mouse, meaning that 20 users can be accommodated with the GreenConnect 10-Pack.  The capability to lock the hard drive is included so that any changes (such as virus or malware infestations, or users installing undesired programs  will be lost when the system is restarted.  This is a feature that third-party products like Deep Freeze have provided in the past, and is a great addition.
 
When considering the cost of running a computer lab, many often forget to include the energy costs.  This is another area where a solution like GreenBridge can reduce the lab power requirements by as much as 80%.  In addition, some energy providers, States, and even Manitoba, offer discounts to entities that deploy energy saving solutions like GreenBridge.
 
David Yunger is the president of GreenBridge Computing.  As a former educator and consultant for Microsoft Partners in Learning, he knows the demands of the classroom.  He also worked as a Senior Product Manager at Microsoft in the division that launched WMS, so apart from a wealth of knowledge of the product, he has great contacts with Microsoft and can put you in touch with the system engineers if a problem arises that warrants it.  In 2010, he left Microsoft to start up GreenBridge who has as their mission to ‘sustainably bridge the digital divide’ for millions of students by connecting schools and libraries with top quality computer workstations at a fraction of the cost of conventional PCs’.  In support of this, they have completed work in several third world countries and donate 5% of their profits to schools in low-income communities.  David has presented to the NAD Technology and Distance Education Committee, and is excited about the potential for deployment of their solutions at Adventist Schools.
 
We found all involved in the GreenBridge company to be very eager to provide a quality product and a pleasurable deployment experience and have no problem in recommending them as a solution provider.  For a small school who is looking for a computer lab or classroom solution that will be cost effective, easy to install and maintain, yet provide the computing power that today's students expect, this could be the system to deploy. Feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss our experience with GreenBridge any further.
 
Colin Hill
chill@cauc.ca
 
Director Computer Services
Canadian University College

 
Resources:
 
CAT~net March 2009 article:      http://catnet.adventist.ca/files/articles/pdf/tech_ID406.pdf
 
GreenBridge Home Page:        http://www.greenbridgecomputing.com/
 
More detail on Energy rebates:    http://www.greenbridgecomputing.com/school-rebates/
 
SplitScreen capability:        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h6i8vhpX1M