Universities Embrace Virtual Desktop Infrastructure to Serve Students

Higher education serves up personalized learning portals —meeting students wherever, whenever and on whatever devices they choose.

For many people, the words “college student” conjure the image of a recent high school graduate who lives on a university campus and goes to school full time. But higher education institutions know better. 

Nontraditional students who are older, live off campus, work, raise families and attend school part time or online are an important constituency — one that is growing. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 34 percent of college students are 25 years of age and older, and more than half of them attend part time. The study also revealed that 33 percent of students took at least one online course in the fall of 2017, a 31 percent increase over 2016. 

Colleges and universities must rethink how they deliver the specific tools, applications and coursework needed by each student regardless of time, device or location. 

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), once viewed as a way to centralize administration and reduce costs associated with managing personal computers, is becoming a powerful tool for meeting the distinct needs of a diverse student population

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Let Students Learn On and Off Campus

VDI — where the operating system, applications and data are hosted on server infrastructure in the data center, in the cloud, or both, and served up on demand to user devices — has become a game changer at many colleges and universities.

Initially, the University of Massachusetts Lowell turned to VDI as a way to reclaim space from “computer lab sprawl” — utilization was as low as 30 percent in some labs — after a 66 percent increase in enrollment in less than a decade. 

By virtualizing some apps and enabling access from student devices, the school was able to shrink both the number and size of computer labs.

Today, the university provides its 18,000 students with virtual desktops, giving them access to any application linked to the college network from any device, whether they are on campus or off. 

For nontraditional students, like a working mother who no longer needs to drive to the campus at night to use the computer lab to do her coursework, the change is transformational.

Overcome Old Security and Financial Barriers

Advances in VDI technologies, solutions and services are helping colleges and universities to overcome old barriers of performance, cost and complexity to deliver a customized learning experience.

The University of Arkansas, for example, was recently recognized with Tech Target’s Access Innovation Award for the functionality, performance and value of its VDI solution. 

The university’s 27,000 students can all use laptops, tablets or smartphones to securely log in to their own personalized portal and workspace. This personalization allows adult learners to feel like a part of their university’s learning community outside of the traditional borders of a campus. 

By leveraging modern desktop virtualization software and server-based virtualized graphics processing unit cards, the university was able to deliver the performance to provide access to applications like computer-aided design with 3D graphics across all disciplines, including those that require high-performance computing environments. 

Beyond universal application access for students, staff and faculty, the university’s VDI capability also simplifies and reduces the cost and effort associated with deploying, securing, maintaining, and supporting hardware and software for end users. 

For example, security, data protection and software updates are applied centrally — and each user is served a refreshed, up-to-date workspace every time they log in. 

As a result, the university’s IT department is able to shift its focus and resources to enabling new kinds of strategic IT-campus partnerships aimed at improving access and services for their off-campus student community. 

These partnerships can strengthen the IT resources available to students. And students can feel reassured knowing the university programs they are utilizing are secure and up to date on the devices they are using

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how universities are using solid-state storage to increase efficiency on campus.

VDI Cuts Costs for Higher Education

In addition to allowing greater access, replacing PCs and workstations with thin and zero clients helps to reduce the cost and complexity of computer labs. 

Exchanging traditional computer lab desktops for flexibly configured thin or zero clients, even with accessories such as 27-inch displays, can reduce electricity consumption by as much as 90 percent and deliver nearly twice the average lifespan for PCs. 

With two-thirds of its students working, caring for families or meeting other outside commitments, the Austin Community College IT Services Team realized another benefit of VDI. It helps students accelerate learning through blended approaches in which students can advance at their own pace. In fact, they program’s first graduate was able to complete three semesters’ worth of work in just seven weeks. 

Accelerating learning allows adult learners to utilize their time efficiently — less time dedicated to schoolwork means that more can be spent with their families, at their jobs or pursuing other personal or professional goals.

Level the Learning Field for All Students

By providing students with simple, secure and affordable access to even the most performance-demanding applications required for their coursework, whenever and wherever they need it, higher education institutions are helping to expand opportunities, level the playing field, and help students of all kinds on the path to success. 

The flexibility of VDI is breaking down barriers and providing students with a choice of when, where, and how they learn. It’s fair to say that with VDI, higher education has never been more accessible.

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Sep 12 2019

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