Prior to implementing a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment, the University of South Carolina (USC) Upstate faced challenges that likely are familiar to many colleges, from the emerging demands of a mobility culture to the need to deliver secure access to users both on and off campus.
USC Upstate’s first challenge was the management of university-owned desktops across campus. The desktop environment, like the campus community, was diverse. Between 500 and 600 machines were deployed in about 30 labs, and each location required a unique set of software.
The evolving culture of mobility also posed new requirements. USC Upstate introduced a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) recommendation in 2013, finding that personal devices had nearly saturated student populations. Today, such devices are ubiquitous: Roughly 96 percent of students own a notebook computer, 98 percent own a smartphone and nearly 70 percent use multiple devices.
Finally, IT staff needed to ensure a secure, consistent user experience across a spectrum of learning environments. Students and faculty work and study all over campus and from off-campus locations, from apartments to coffee shops. Securing IT access for diverse users spanning a variety of locales created significant challenges for the IT team.
Providing Anytime, Anywhere Access with VDI
In response to all of those challenges, the university launched Spartan GreenSky, an initiative that gives students, faculty and staff secure, cloud-based access to its email system, file storage and course-required software, anytime, anywhere. With a VDI environment built on VMware Horizon and App Volumes, Spartan GreenSky allows users access to services from any computer or tablet with an Internet connection.
Users now have remote access to nearly all of the university’s computer labs and specialized software, which previously were available only in person, in specific labs and at specific times. That includes data analysis tools like SPSS, computer programming tools like Visual Basic and recording programs like Audacity, among others.
Advice for Other Institutions
From the outset, the primary goal for the Spartan GreenSky VDI environment was to transform the student experience regardless of students’ physical location. But ultimately, the new VDI environment also created a much more secure IT environment. And any institution looking to implement a similar environment should give planning consideration to enacting these safeguards:
- Reduce the attack surface.
By giving users a complete virtual desktop instance that includes all resources for which they are authorized, USC Upstate dramatically reduced the risk factor from the endpoint threat vector. IT staff no longer worry about managing the security challenges inherent in many types of devices. Now, they can scan across the network and identify questionable processes on individual VDI machines within minutes.
- Strengthen application security.
By centralizing applications in the data center, IT staff can streamline updates and patching. Staff can update an application once, and immediately all students, faculty and staff who rely on the program have access to the most secure, up-to-date version.
- Improve data protection.
Faculty and staff often work with sensitive personal data, employee data and academic information such as grades and transcripts, so security is a top priority. USC Upstate’s VDI environment reduces the overall risk to data theft through compromised devices. A strong series of locked security controls within the data center provide ubiquitous protection across whatever endpoint is used to access the virtual desktop, because endpoints do not serve as storage locations.
- Strive for more flexible resources.
Use requirements and security concerns drove the implementation of Spartan GreenSky, but the VDI has yielded additional benefits. The university enjoyed a significant return on investment in terms of IT resource flexibility, savings that ultimately were passed on to students and expanded the university’s ability to assist students in attaining their academic and career goals.
Overall, USC Upstate’s VMware Horizon deployment has enhanced user experience, moderated IT support purchasing costs and, most important, increased security.