Feb 02 2009

Virtual Advantage

Virtualization pays off for Bryant University in Rhode Island.

Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., recently deployed two popular virtualization applications: Citrix’s Presentation Server and Microsoft’s SoftGrid. Combined, these applications delivered many benefits, including lower cost, better software and resource efficiency, and maximum flexibility in software deployment.

One reason we made the move is that over the past several months, the academic requirements for varied and specialized software applications have grown tremendously. At the same time, the escalating price of software licenses and the decline in the number of centralized student computer labs have forced Bryant to rethink software deployment and tracking for faculty, student and classroom use.

Here are some of the benefits the virtualization tools delivered:

Web-based access to specialty apps by students: In 2002, Bryant began issuing notebook computers to incoming freshmen. In the current program, these computers are returned to the school, and updated models are reissued to the students at the beginning of their junior year. The purpose was to give students better access to computer resources and to reduce the number of fixed computer classrooms and labs required.

Although provisioning was made to equip students with common software — for example, Microsoft Office — there was clearly no way to purchase and install special-purpose software, such as SPSS, on all student notebooks. We used Citrix Presentation Server to solve the student software problem. The program lets students run a number of class-specific software packages on their notebooks in a web-based interface. Some of the software distributed in this fashion includes Animation Shop, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Minitab, SPSS, SAP Client, Maple, MathLab and Tell Me More. The Citrix applications are available to the students at any time of the day or night and from anywhere, on campus or off. The administrative side of the package also keeps track of license limitations.

More effective management of faculty licenses: Many faculty members require specialized applications under specific circumstances, such as a class or a research project, but do not require the application consistently. In the past, when our budget only allowed for a limited number of licenses of this type to be purchased, IS personnel had to track who had a specific software package installed, how long it had been installed and whether it was being used, and then had to physically visit a user’s computer to uninstall it so it could be installed on another system.

Creating a virtual environment, in this case with SoftGrid, proved to be the solution to this problem. Unlike Citrix’s web-based interface, SoftGrid streams an application to the client system, where it is run locally. To the user, the application seems to be installed on his or her individual computer. Again, license requirements and limitations are monitored, and a wealth of administrative tools is provided.

Flexible delivery of apps for classroom and lab computers: Again, to save money and IT staff and hardware resources, the Citrix and SoftGrid products have been installed on all classroom instructor stations, as well as classroom and lab computers. Programs required for in-class use are thus available as needed, ensuring a measure of consistency between what students have in the classroom/lab and on their notebook systems. A level of flexibility is also attained, because faculty members who need an application for class purposes after the start of the semester can have it made available without the need for changing the base image or doing individual installations.

Overall, the addition of application virtualization within the academic framework at Bryant has been very successful. Additional projects are either under way or are being investigated, such as upgrades to the existing Citrix installation and testing of Lenovo’s Secure Managed Client.