I have to admit that I feel a bit of a Luddite when it comes to some of the more technical sides of IT - and my mind was pre-programmed to believe that things that involved "virtualising" anything were too technical for me. But, over the last year I've come to realise that I've missed the change that has gone on with the world of virtualisation - the idea of running multiple mini-computers within one bigger one; or running an application on one computer, but displaying the screens on another. It's the kind of dark art that I had thought was reserved for big datacentres (do people still wear white coats in them?), but more and more I come across it in more 'normal' situations.

Chris Page, at Warwickshire local authority, is obviously a fan of it - he's using it to provide support for schools, and their pupils, across the county. What it allows the IT team to do is distribute new software applications across the schools, without having to send a technician out to visit them. So, if a new version of SIMS arrives, they can make it available for users quickly, or if they find a new bit of software for teaching, they can make it available to teachers for evaluation - all without going near the computers of the schools and teachers involved. It helps them improve the managed ICT service for schools by streamlining application delivery and improving security for remote access to school networks. And IT technicians are freed up to focus on delivering better support, while teachers can easily evaluate innovative new software on school computers.

It uses a clever bit of software, called SoftGrid Application Virtualization. In a nutshell, it allows you to install an application on one central machine, and then "stream" it down to other PCs when they want to use it - without having to install it on those PCs. So, a teacher could use a virtual version of Office 2007 for training, but still have Office 2003 installed on their laptop.

According to David Banton, the Network Manager at Avon Valley School “SoftGrid has made our IT environment extremely flexible and saved us significant costs. Once an application has been sequenced it can be accessed by users anywhere in minutes.”

Chris and David worked with us to produce a case study, which explains how it helps the school and the local authority, which is available on our worldwide case studies website.

Chris also published a more detailed case study on Avon Valley School, on the Warwickshire team's website