Feb 11 2009

Virtual Helping Hand

Specialty applications run over virtual desktops deliver first-rate educational tools to students at UT Pan American.

The University of Texas Pan American is using virtual desktop technology to help its students gain easy access to high-end statistical programs such as SPSS and Pro/Engineer.

UT Pan American is in Edinburg, Texas, about 20 miles from the Mexican border, near the Rio Grande at the southern end of Texas. The school serves surrounding Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties.

Bob Lim, the school’s vice president for information technology, says UT Pan American uses HP BL680c blade servers to provide Windows XP, Vista and Linux users on campus with access to a growing list of specialty programs. Licensing for the programs is handled centrally by a management server. The college plans to complete the entire desktop virtualization program by May.

The primary beneficiaries of the virtualized programs cover a wide swath of majors at the school, including mathematics, computer programming, engineering, nursing, arts, and business and communications courses, says Lim.

Most of the school’s students are commuters and don’t live on campus. The virtual labs are available all the time, whenever students need them, which means students don’t have to come onto campus to access the programs from dedicated computer lab facilities.

“Because the virtual lab sessions run within a client, students can have the use of the latest and greatest version of software without having to worry about upgrading their own personal computer hardware to meet the needs of the new software. The client is the only thing that runs in the student’s computer, and its hardware needs won’t change drastically over time,” says Lim.

Although Lim hasn’t officially taken measure of how the virtualization affects students, he does know that having a complement of complex programs available to students from wherever and whenever they’re working helps them out.

He plans to measure usage and logons to the labs in the coming months, as well as conduct student surveys to ensure the program is meeting expectations.