Libraries’ importance in the provision of the People’s Network prevails, with clear public demand for a neutral, supportive place within every community for accessing broadband and PC facilities. Only last week we heard many members of the public defend their right to local library services on twitter, flagging computer services as a key part of what they wish to retain. For a useful summary of the social media storm, which was sparked by a conversation between a ten-year-old boy and David Cameron, please see Public Libraries News.
In this latest post* we look at how library authorities can continue to maintain and support public computing services efficiently and securely, with a look at the role played by their technology suppliers. The key takeaway here is that technology advancements are leading to easier, cheaper ways of providing much needed services, rather than being used as a reason to dispense with them!
Deploying and supporting the People’s Network
Over recent years, council ICT departments have been continually stretched in their resourcing. By the beginning of last year, 25% of library and corporate ICT was being outsourced. At times like this, technology providers offer vital support and expertise, and give libraries a source of continuity and experience when so much else is being thrown up in the air.
The role of suppliers is critical to support libraries in capitalising on the latest technologies. Compatibility and support with the latest OS (operating systems) and deployment methods, cooperation with new frameworks – such as the new Library Communications Framework (LCF) – and provision of centralised web-based administrative tools are a number of key areas where vendors can improve how libraries operate and deliver their services. In these ways Lorensbergs continually invests in the netloan PC booking, printing and Wi-Fi portfolio. We are amongst many suppliers that are happy to share expertise in making projects a reality, enabling solutions to be delivered efficiently and in useful timeframes.
Deployment of the People’s Network – how software on the end terminals is installed, maintained, updated and kept secure – is one area where Lorensbergs has worked closely with netloan customers. Deployment amongst libraries remains predominantly thick client, where the software sits on each machine. In the last few years there has been some movement to other methods such as thin client and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) as a way of reducing ICT support overheads, and this slow but steady pace continued throughout 2015.
Traditional thin client involves the user’s desktop being hosted on a remote server rather than the computer that is physically in front of them. While this requires several powerful servers to run, it allows the use of terminals rather than full computers for public PC provision, making the hardware cost of deployment and replacement much lower. Terminals are often small and require less desk space, and because the hardware is generally of a lower specification, they are a less tempting target for theft. However, users often see a server-based desktop which may look less familiar than the thick client desktop. Also, thin client users can experience performance issues with complex graphical displays - in particular video streaming - although the impact of this has lessened in recent years with various improvements in streaming technology.
With VDI, users connect to a virtual desktop using a thin client connection. The desktop is created afresh each time from a single master template making it very secure and easy to maintain with the latest software. VDI has other benefits similar to thin client in terms of client terminal cost savings, although both methods may involve higher initial costs around server specification. The reason why these methods are yet to take off in libraries is partly due to the need for specialist consultancy and support. The high upfront costs around the server specification have also proved to be prohibitive for some, especially for those unable to take a longer term approach to budget planning.
Some libraries are also using hybrid methods of deployment, for example, with a local installation of Internet Explorer but with Microsoft Office delivered via thin client to get the best of both worlds. Others remaining with thick client use a systems management solution such as System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), which helps centralise infrastructure management and so reduce software installation and updating overheads.
Time will tell as to whether the benefits of these various deployment methods are more widely felt as awareness, expertise and investment catch up. At Lorensbergs we continue to partner with our customers to support them in achieving the efficiencies and greater security that come with the different models of deployment and support.
* This blog post includes an extract from the Lorensbergs article Library technology – What’s new and what’s next, which first published in the PMLG Annual 2016. To see the full article, please click here.