Virtualization: Enabling Availability and Efficiency in Higher Education

July 19, 2012 - 0 Comments

Imagine a school where computer labs are obsolete. Imagine if every student had their own personalized workspace, without having to rely on their school’s computers. Imagine if schools or colleges could avoid upgrading, maintaining, and housing thousands of computer units; network administrators could update programs and information available on every student’s device with the click of a button, and students could use their personalized desktops at anytime from anywhere. Many institutions around the world are beginning to embrace technologies that transform this dream into a reality, and often times, this transformation is one made out of necessity.

I’m currently third year student at the University of Oregon and a Cisco intern. I support Cisco’s Education Marketing Team. While at Cisco, I’ve been able to observe many forward-thinking higher education institutions and compare their initiatives to my own education experiences. The following passage notes the successes had by two higher education institutions when implementing virtualization programs into their IT systems.

The current economic crisis has sent large numbers of students to community college for job re-training or as a lower-cost alternative to traditional four-year colleges.  This massive influx of students has put enormous pressure on technology supporting these systems.  MiraCosta College is one of those.  A 20,000-student institution located in Southern California, MiraCosta recently struggled to provide students with specialized software programs for their coursework, and these programs were only available in the school’s computer labs. Due to the increased number of students, many individuals were unable to schedule lab time. The college implemented a virtualization program to allow students to access a personalized desktop from campus, home, or around the corner at a coffee shop. Installing Cisco’s Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) based on Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) enabled the institution to consolidate server space and virtualize nearly 95 percent of the campus. Students now have anytime access to all of the programs that they need. They don’t need to go to a computer lab to obtain access.  Plus, the school has actually saved money by consolidating server space, and they are now able to centrally manage the formerly dispersed system.

“This technology has really enabled us to meet next-generation student needs. We strongly feel that we are moving into a new era of technology infrastructure and computing.”

Steve Schultz- Technical Services Coordinator, MiraCosta College

Tennessee is another state strained by an increase in community college demand.  Volunteer (Vol) State Community College in Gallatin needed to provide better access to resources for a growing number of students.  Concurrently, the state passed legislation that reduced community college appropriations by 15 percent, and additional legislation called for delivery of remedial and developmental courses in math, reading, and English. System officials needed to find a way to make more school desktops available for incoming students while drastically altering the curriculum…all with a decreased budget.

Chief Information Officer, Brian Kraus, set out to find solutions for these imperatives. At the time, Kraus was told by his technology provider that the implementation of a virtualized initiative was financially, out of the question. After attending an informational presentation by Cisco, Kraus implemented Cisco VXI based on Cisco UCS at Vol State College. The result was a major consolidation of servers which drastically reduced IT costs.  Additionally, virtualizing desktops on the campus made it simple to update the curriculum and online content for the teachers and students. As a final benefit, the campus was able to accommodate the growing number of students.

Both MiraCosta and Vol State were able to provide more students with necessary resources while exponentially decreasing their costs.

As students continue to demand more technology in their college courses, and the enrollment levels continue to rise, education officials are being forced to evolve into a new era of technology. Often times, by re-evaluating a school’s technology system, administrators are able to achieve the best of both worlds. They can create a more robust and scalable network that acts as a foundation for other technologies, and they can reduce costs.

When it comes to technology, students are easy please. They are not all that concerned with servers, routers, switches, data centers, virtualized desktops or anything else of this nature. They don’t care about what kind of technology allows them to access the internet, download information or use programs. Students want one single thing: to access the tools and information they need for their courses, when they need them. Technologies such as the Cisco VXI enable students like myself to access applications and files whenever I want on the device of my choice..

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