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Brazil Greens-up Educational PC Project by Virtualizing

Brazil's government is about to create the world's largest desktop virtualization project, in schools across the entire country. And it's not just a move to advance educational computing for the country's kids while saving cash—it's a fabulously simple way to reduce the carbon footprint that the educational project would otherwise possess.

The project uses a customized system from Userful that creates 10 independent workstations from one central computer. In total some 324,000 desktops will be created in the 5,560 municipalities that make up Brazil—that's 32,000 PCs in total.

Those figures mean the deployment is also the world's largest single deployment of desktop Linux machines ever. The costs are kept phenomenally low by Userful's technology: it means a seat at a workstation, with hardware and software, is less than $50. The system maximises using the full power of the hub PC, versus the partial peak-loaded power use that a single installation goes through as a user performs various tasks over time.

The hardware is being handled by Thinnetworks, and is designed to be resilient and work reliably in relatively harsh environments without much infrastructure—such as the conditions that may be encountered in some of the more remote rural villages the project will reach out to.

As opposed to a scheme where each workstation required its own PC, this will cost an estimated $47 million less in installation costs, and save up to $9 million in electricity costs annually, according to Userful's Marketing Manager Sean Rousseau. That directly maps to a carbon footprint reduction of 140,000 tons of CO2—equivalent to planting 35,000 acres of trees—versus the traditional installation. That's a noteworthy statistic in a country where some 3 million acres of forest were lost in 2006. When the system reaches end-of-life, it also means there is less physical hardware to dispose of, which is another important environmental saving.

The project is part of a bigger inititive by the Brazilian government to bring computer experience to millions of children across the country. Ronaldo Mota from the Brazilian Ministry of Education notes the goal is to reach 45,000 schools by 2010, or around 60% of 2.7 million students.

Back in 2006 Brazil was also the first country to receive XO PCs from the One Laptop Per Child project, although the rollout was very limited in number. A move to distribute 150,000 more XO PCs stalled after the competition became mired in red tape—import duties pushed the cost of an XO PC up from its $100 target to nearly $390.

Its interesting to note that both of these educational IT plans will not center on Windows-based machines, with the XO PC running its dedicated Sugar OS, and the desktop virtualization scheme using a special Linux Educacional 2.0 software package that the Brazilian education Ministry has created.