Want to please students? Going virtual may be the answer

Why large universities are turning to VDI for student services and IT ease.

Implementing VDI with Success

Iowa State is using Dell cloud client-computing solutions, Dell Wyse thin client endpoints and technologies from VMware and Nvidia to give students more flexible access, streamline IT management and deliver workstation-class graphics. The school’s Department of Agronomy is using Dell EMC PowerEdge rack servers combined with Nvidia’s vGPU with GRID technology that can run complex design applications and the advanced rendering of 3D objects that make up an increasingly large part of modern farming software. The 1,000 students or so students are able to run such advanced simulations and projections as complex meteorological analysis.

The virtual client implementation started small—as part of Nvidia’s vGPU Early Access Program—with three Intel-powered Dell EMC PowerEdge systems running VDI technology based on VMware’s vSphere and Horizon software and using solid-state drive (SSD) storage covering four PC labs and the departments loaner laptop program. It has since grown over the past several years to include software-defined networking (SDN) and resource delegation.

“The ability to incorporate everything in one resource has been invaluable,” Bolin said. “It gives us the ability to have students use a single log-in screen for their labs, classrooms, distance educating and computing and makes things so much more efficient as far as managing the resources is concerned.”

NSU, with campuses throughout southern and central Florida, is using Dell VDI technology for its College of Dental Medicine to support students who are using radiographs, 3D imaging and practice management software in their studies. PCs that students had been using were struggling to support the increasingly complex and graphics-intensive software. The school already had Dell EMC PowerEdge servers and Storage SC Series systems in its data center, and starting in 2010 had issued Dell PCs to its students.

Opting for a VDI environment, the NSU College of Dental Medicine brought in more than 300 Dell Wyse 5040 all-in-one thin clients to several campuses and its new dental simulation lab. The endpoints run Wyse ThinOS, a fast and secure operating system, are powered by AMD’s G-Series dual-core chip and offer high-end graphics capabilities.

Seeing Tangible Results

“Overall, by using upgraded back-end Dell EMC hardware and the Dell EMC thin client solution, we can give our students everything they need,” said Dr. Joel Slingbaum, assistant professor and IT director at NSU’s College of Dental Medicine. “We can give them a better opportunity to learn and apply their knowledge and techniques to their educational and clinical goals.”

The move to VDI not only improved the student training experience, but helped with compliance with such federal regulation as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act—no patient data is stored locally—eased management and reduced costs. Replacing the PCs with the Dell Wyse thin clients is saving NSU’s dental school at least 50 percent in costs by reducing the amount of hardware it has to buy.

IT officials at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering several years ago found that the growing use of such graphics-intensive software as CAD and 3D CGI animation applications, the increasing demand for more processing power and the need for more flexibility in how students with multiple mobile devices accessed files and networks was putting greater pressure on their systems.

They turned to a virtualized client environment that initially included Dell EMC PowerEdge R720 servers running VMware’s vSphere and Horizon software, then expanded the program to include Nvidia vGPU-based virtual desktops and Dell Wyse thin clients. The engineering school’s VDI environment includes 900 laptops and desktop PCs and 200 applications and supports 6,300 students in 27 classrooms.

Another plus: while the engineering software used by the USC school tends to be Windows-based, some students use Mac laptops, which proved to be a challenge at times. In the VDI environment, that hurdle is gone, officials said.

The virtualized client technology is working so well for USC that there are plans in place to grow the use in other classrooms as well as for disaster recovery purposes.

Universities are fighting a two-front battle to not only improve students’ user experiences and give them the workstation-level graphics capabilities they need to run the newest software, but also to make their IT environments easier to manage, more secure and less costly. Many are finding that VDI technologies can address concerns facing both students and IT staffs.

eSchool Media Contributors
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