UMD to become virtualization hub for surrounding community

170,000 UMD students will have access to virtualized computing.

Virtualizing software and desktops throughout the University System of Maryland’s 100 locations will be a technological boon for more than just the 170,000 UMD students who will enjoy more flexible learning opportunities: Nearby school kids also will benefit.

In what is believed to be the largest such project of its kind in higher education, UMD officials have teamed up with Dell Inc. to make available premium software such as Pearson’s MyMathLab and desktop and web publishing programs from Adobe to students and faculty members from the convenience of their own computers—or from any device on campus.

Virtualized computing is a growing trend among colleges and universities, but in a unique twist, UMD’s technology offerings stored on campus servers also will be available to K-12 students in local school systems, bringing up-to-date curriculum and software to students’ homes.

The Maryland Research and Education Network will help K-12 students at public and private schools gain access to UMD’s software.

The virtualized computing program is still in its pilot phase, being tested at several UMD sites, but officials from the university and Dell—the company heading the virtualization effort—said supporting technological access for Maryland elementary, middle, and high schools has made the program a popular one in educational circles.

John Suess, vice president for IT at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), said the proliferation of mobile devices and computer tablets made it clear that the university needed to find a way to bring on-campus resources to students at their convenience.

“How do you leverage the fact that almost every one of our students owns technology that would be acceptable to use in working with software if they could get easy access to it?” Suess asked.

Some UMD software installed on campus computers couldn’t be shared with students off-campus, because the products weren’t legally allowed to be installed on student or faculty computers, said Michael Carlin, assistant vice president for infrastructure and support at UMD.

“By providing a virtual desktop solution … we can extend the boundaries out beyond the campus” and get around these restrictions, Carlin said.

Centralizing the university’s software and making it more accessible for IT staffers in one location also will free up time for long-term IT projects, rather than day-to-day fixes that require a visit to a computer lab or classroom, said Erica Hilgeman, Dell’s marketing manager for desktop virtualization.

“Rather than being down in the weeds with support tasks, this really allows the campuses to make sure they are utilizing the software that students need,” Hilgeman said. At another college that virtualized its computing, an IT manager was able to redeploy four of the department’s six IT workers after virtualization took hold, she added.

Making software programs securely available to students in their dorm rooms in the middle of the night, Hilgeman said, also could save UMD campuses the expense of building new facilities.

“A lot of those schools have computer labs set up for a specific class, but when students can access programs from their laptop instead, schools won’t have to build a new building or computer lab or classroom,” Hilgeman said.

Dell’s acquisition of KACE allows for easy monitoring of software usage, which can help school IT personnel manage applications within a cloud-based environment. That means campus IT staff can know how many licenses of each program are being used, so they can plan accordingly.

Other higher-ed campuses that have launched institution-wide virtualized computing programs include the University of Tennessee (UT) at Knoxville and Freed-Hardeman University (FHU) in Henderson, Tenn.

Using Desktone’s Desktop Cloud, FHU students and faculty members will be able to use campus technology resources from their iPads, MacBooks, and Windows PCs. At UT, more than 37,000 students and educators were given access to 181 virtualized programs.

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