Virtually done – helping students access specialist IT resources

November 25th, 2013 | Posted by Jennifer Kennedy in Uncategorized

By Dave Thornley, Head of Networks and Infrastructure, IS&T

Over the summer, IS&T and the Computing Department of ACES rolled out a new way of providing students with access to specialist IT resources.

The problem

In previous years ACES have used virtual machines, a computer within a computer running on PCs in specialist IT rooms. Although these gave students and staff the flexibility and access they needed for their courses there were some significant problems with that way of working.

The files associated with the virtual machines were so large they took a long time to copy to networked storage and back. Students could spend a large proportion of a session waiting for files to copy before they could do any work. At the end of a session students would either have to spend time copying files back or leave them on the PC they worked on and hope they could access it next time. In addition the labs used were in high demand for teaching so students’ access to these facilities and their ability to keep up with teaching and assessment was reduced.

Pilot project for ACES

ACES Computing staff discussed their problems with IS&T and a project was started to create a solution. The project was set up in May this year and aimed to have a deployed solution by the start of Semester 1 so a pilot could be run with a  single course. IS&T provided a corporate investment of around £100,000 in the project to put in place a service that could run the pilot and be extensible in the future.

What are the benefits?

The solution is based on a similar technology to the Remote Desktop called VDI or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. This allows IS&T to provide similar facilities to their old way of working but running them in the University datacentre, rather than on the workstations in a lab. This has a number of advantages for students and staff

  • The machines are always on and always available. There is no need for students to spend time copying files so students spend more time in every session on valuable activity.
  • Students can use machines anywhere in the university, not just in the ACES network labs, reducing pressure on heavily used space.
  • Setting up sessions is much quicker, with far less staff time needed to build the computers students will use

What’s next?

With the pilot up and running, IS&T are concentrating on making sure the service performs as expected and building confidence in the technology with the academics who will rely on it.

We will also be monitoring how many students are using the system to access the additional resources and how often they are doing  so. That way, we can maintain enough capacity to keep everything running smoothly and working as everyone expects,

If you’d like more information about this please contact Rich Smith or Simon Alexander.



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