By Steve Zurier
The IT staff at Hofstra University believe they have seen the future, and they're preparing for it.
Laurie Harvey, director of student computing services and the help desk at the Hempstead, N.Y., university, says she and the IT department at Hofstra have concluded that most applications will be delivered over the web in the future.
“An interesting question now is that with products such as Google Apps for Education, will desktop-reliant operating systems be required?” poses Harvey. “There is a move to put everything on the web for portability. That is where our students are, and we want to move as many applications as possible to the web and have the technology in place when that shift takes place.”
Hofstra is using Novell's ZENWorks to deliver a virtual desktop to students, faculty and staff wherever they are. All users will need is an Internet connection for access to applications over a standard web browser. Along with MS Office and high-end applications such as MathCAD, students, faculty and staff can access McAfee, Adobe Acrobat, Dreamweaver and Flash through the virtual system.
Robert Juckiewicz, the college's vice president of information technology, says the apps are now available to Hofstra's 12,000 students – a major increase because access was previously limited to 1,600 seats. Juckiewicz says the university will save more than $300,000 a year in notebook replacement costs for classrooms and hundreds of work-hours that were once invested in maintenance.
Harvey also points out that offering the virtual web apps dramatically changed the nature of student computer labs on campus. Now that students have virtual access to high-end scientific and math applications, it might make sense to shutter the labs. Instead, Harvey says Hofstra wants to create “collaboratories,” where students can work collaboratively with large-screen displays, whiteboards and wireless access to the college's network.
On the mobile front, My.Hofstra Mobile offers mobile access to the college's portal. Harvey says the application supports iPhones and BlackBerrys, and plans are in the works to support many other smartphones. Students, faculty and staff can sign on to Blackboard course management software, register for classes, and check e-mail and bus schedules. They can also search for e-mail addresses, office contact numbers, fax numbers and office locations of faculty and administrators on campus.
Mobile computing will become ubiquitous on campus, Harvey says, pointing to a survey of Hofstra's undergraduate population that found that 60 percent now use some form of notebook and another 27 percent own either a BlackBerry or an iPhone.
“With so much computing moving to mobile apps, we decided to start with the most requested services by students, applications such as adding and dropping courses and registering for classes,” Harvey concludes.
Another important move was outsourcing all e-mail for students, faculty and staff. Students use Gmail and employees use Micosoft Hosted Exchange Online. Both services make e-mail available anywhere a user has an Internet connection.