In 2016, Nova Southeastern Dental College embarked on an ambitious project to modernize teaching systems and IT infrastructure, including adopting thin clients.
Universities and other teaching institutions face an entirely different set of challenges than businesses and other groups. For one thing, users must access the network and data from a variety of locations, sometimes using different devices. For another, the IT department must constantly provision and de-provision systems and devices—all while maintaining security.
"There are a lot of complicated issues," says Joel Slingbaum, an assistant professor and director of information technologies at Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine.
The dental school, founded in 1997, had long relied on conventional servers, desktop PCs and laptops. "When the school opened, it was on the leading edge of technology, but over the years, things began to fall behind," Slingbaum explains.
With classroom instruction, postgraduate programs, and treatment facilities for children, adolescents, adults, the elderly and medically compromised individuals, there was a need to support digital textbooks and reference books, electronic medical records, digital imaging and testing systems.
In 2016, the school embarked on an ambitious project to modernize teaching systems and IT infrastructure. This included adding state-of-the-art digital training units that allow instructors and students to replicate entire procedures without using a person. Instead, they work on lifelike mannequin heads with real teeth.
In order for observers to see the procedure, the school installed 300 Dell Wyse 5040 all-in-one thin client desktop computers. "We went from a wall-mounted visual display for the entire room for audio and video to an all-in-one PC in front of each of the students," Slingbaum explains. "We are now able to train students using virtual tools."
All-In-One Devices Simplify IT Administration
The dental school did not stop there. The thin client units are now used in medical facilities and at other locations throughout the campus, including treatment rooms. One major advantage, Slingbaum reports, is that the all-in-one devices greatly simplify IT administration.
"The beauty of the zero-client approach is that there is no more need to manually go to each machine to install updates and patches," he says. "Now, everything can be done remotely."
What's more, the IT staff can swap .INI files for different purposes. "We can make changes on the fly, and they are saved on the server," Slingbaum says. "Then we reboot the machines, and the changes take place across every workstation. Afterwards, we can reset the .INI file and go back to the previous state."
For instance, the school uses this approach when it administers state and national licensing exams at its clinics, which occurs three times each year.
The school attempted to minimize user confusion and pushback by making the environment appear Windows-friendly. Slingbaum says that the transition went smoothly and required only a few other infrastructure and software updates, including improved storage, in order for 3D imaging and radiological imaging to work within the environment.
The school plans to add support for mobile devices, including tablets and smartphones, over the coming months.
The end result? The college has been able to reduce technology spending by 50 percent, ensure adherence to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) act, and deliver state-of-the-art training for its students.