PHILIPPI - The Barbour County Board of Education recently approved a technology purchase that will have students sharing computers, but not in the way that might first spring to mind.
It's a new technology from FireFly Computers that turns the equivalent of one computer unit into an entire lab of computers. The technology is called a thin client lab. A single thin client lab can be used separately by 25-35 students at different stations.
"This is kind of a neat setup," Superintendent Dr. Joe Super said during Nov. 8's board meeting.
Each station is connected by an Internet cable to a main computer that drives the entire system - but has its own monitor, keyboard and mouse. The unit also allows students to plug in a thumb drive so they can store or take their documents home with them.
"We're moving outside of the box," Technology Director Glen Sweet said.
This $102,745 purchase enables the BOE to have 91 more computer stations than it would have had with a traditional computer purchase, Sweet said.
"The benefit of this is when we first figured this out, if we went with desktop computers, for the same amount we would have gotten 215 computers," Sweet said. "So we're going to have that much more (91 stations) available to us."
Sweet said that the buy would also save time for technicians installing new programs or updates. He said if 11 labs had 30 computers each, that equates to 330 computers.
"Doing it this way, instead of having to touch 330 computers every time Microsoft comes up with an update, (or) every time somebody says 'I need a program in this lab,' they go to one computer. They do the upgrade on each of the server units. It's going to save us a lot of time with our techs."
Not only will this new computer system save time and provide more computer units at a lower cost than traditional computers, but it also could lower the school's power bills. Sweet said that the thin client servers do not take as much electricity to power as standard computers.
However, one board member expressed a concern with the concept of the thin client lab.
"What do you do when it goes out?" BOE member Doward Matlick said. "If you're feeding 30 (computer units), that's my question. If you have one go down, you have 30 down."
Board member Joanne McConnell said that the thin client labs have gone down at Alderson Broaddus University occasionally, but a technician has been able to repair or service the lab quickly.
Super said that a technician for the BOE is already familiar with ABU's system and will be one of the technicians working with these thin client labs. Sweet said the system that the school board is purchasing is the same as ABU's.
"Do we have concerns about this type of a system? Not really," Sweet said, adding that the same system from the same company works well at ABU. "They've had excellent service, excellent phone support and we're really excited about this opportunity."
Contact Melissa Toothman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.