Iowa City Schools delivers virtual education to distance learning students on Chromebooks

Iowa City Schools serves more than 14,000 students, spans approximately 133 square miles, and comprises more than 40 schools. It is the fifth-largest school district in the state of Iowa. The district’s high-tech approach to the classroom keeps its students ahead of the curve. The district’s dedicated IT staff implements innovative tech solutions to support the needs of teachers and students.


Iowa City Schools ran into reliability issues while using Citrix XenApp to deliver specialty applications to secondary students. These issues included inefficient delivery, difficult system management,  and costly upgrade requirements to maintain server infrastructure. The district’s IT leadership decided to replace this legacy system with a cloud-native solution that would provide more reliable delivery of apps, be simpler to manage, slash costs, and allow for flexible scalability into the future.

The need for a solution grew once the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The crisis forced schools to host classes online and enable students to learn from home instead of on-campus Windows labs. Schools across the globe now faced the novel challenge of allowing students to participate in computer technology classes while distance learning. Iowa City Schools needed a way to deliver traditional Windows Labs software to its students via their Chromebooks. Specific examples include students that needed access to AutoCAD for industrial tech courses, Adobe Creative Cloud for art courses, and Office Suite for business courses.

On-premise solutions like Citrix would require large, fixed, up-front cost premiums for upgrades — something difficult for a school district to stomach, especially because its staff wouldn’t be able to predict usage needs down the road. This could lead to completely unnecessary costs for the district. On-premise solutions are also difficult to manage.

Using itopia’s cloud automation and orchestration solution, Iowa City Schools delivered mission-critical apps like Autodesk to remote students.

Solution and Outcomes

The district’s Director of Technology and Innovation, Adam Kurth, comparatively evaluated Citrix XenApp and itopia based on performance, supportability, ease of management, resilience, and cost-efficiency, it was clear that itopia would be the most effective solution for delivering Windows applications to students’ and faculty members’ Chromebooks. The breakdown on those benefits is as follows:

Ease of management: itopia’s cloud-native, centralized management dashboard enables the district’s IT staff to more easily and remotely manage the delivery of education apps to its students. “Because itopia lives within Google Cloud, we don’t need to worry about maintaining hardware or allocating specialty GPUs within our virtual server environment,” Kurth mentioned. He added:

“Because itopia has a management console, managing the environment is straightforward. You’re not doing everything with patchwork of other products behind the scenes, or encountering the steep learning curve that we encountered with Citrix. With itopia, our sysadmin doesn’t have to have specialized training to manage the environment.”

Reliability: We’ve been very happy with the performance of the itopia solution,” says Kurth, adding that students and teachers no longer report the technical impediments they faced with their previous solution. Students also appreciate that unlike with the previous solution, they could seamlessly switch between apps, and have access to personalized shortcuts and preferences every time they log into their computers.. GCP’s high-performance VM’s enabled students to access mission-critical applications like AutoCAD, Office Suite, and Adobe Creative Cloud. “We know we can count on itopia’s professional services team to respond quickly or jump on a call to work something out in real time,” he elaborated.

Resilience and scalability: When the COVID-19 crisis struck, the district reduced major disruption by simply scaling up its use of itopia to deliver apps to more students. And when students return to school following the pandemic, the district can adjust the scale of the solution in order to continue delivering apps to students that need them for completing homework at home.

Cost efficiency: itopia eliminates the district’s excessive up-front cost premiums because it provides scalable computing resources. As a result, the district’s computing costs are flexible and directly reflect the amount of resources the district actually uses (instead of an inflated fixed rate). This enables the district to avoid paying for resources that it might not need or use. The technology director reflected:

“We really saw itopia as something, compared to what we had in Citrix, where we’re making an investment on an ongoing basis, but that investment directly reflects usage of the platform. So if we see a decline or if we see a spike, we’re able to scale to either of those without either a huge wasted investment on the front end, or an investment on the front end that’s not sufficient for where our needs ended up going.”

“itopia has been tremendously helpful to us to provide students the apps they need, regardless of what our learning mode is - remote or in person.”