VDI delivers a lecture in IT efficiency

Students’ expectations from tech have never been higher but how can universities deliver the necessary IT resources cost-effectively?

By David Angwin, marketing director EMEA, Dell Cloud Client-computing

Universities are facing increasing pressure to balance their IT budgets whilst providing students access to the computing tools they need to succeed. Whilst the latest financial report from accountancy firm Grant Thornton shows universities are enjoying strong balance sheets with surpluses of income, these may not be sufficient to weather further funding cuts or meet future costs, such as, building maintenance and staff pensions, which were previously covered by Government, nor will they counteract increasing in-flows of domestic and international students to UK universities following the removal of the student number control system (SNC) in 2015. 

Universities must therefore look to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their IT infrastructure in order to best mitigate cost and to meet the demands of modern students.

A principal challenge university IT departments are confronted with today is a lack of access and flexibility. Students want to use education applications on an increasing number of devices across vast campuses. Lining up for a university’s library computer – an often scarce and expensive resource – is frustrating, especially with deadlines looming. The solution many universities are now opting for is client virtualisation, sometimes known as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI. This process runs user desktops inside a virtual machine that lives on a server in the datacentre. It is a cost-effective system that delivers a host of benefits to students, lecturers and administrators. 

Unlock a huge potential in convenience & mobility

Client virtualisation makes IT accessible at any point and from any device. When a user logs on to a computer, the system is capable of delivering the appropriate set of software and services based on the user’s role. Applications can be delivered to personal hardware too, including mobile and tablet devices, ensuring full mobility. 

It’s a convenient system, delivering benefits such as the fast repurposing of course materials which can be remotely adjusted and deployed in a lecture hall for example, in-between classes, pre-empting hold-ups and potential confusion. It also allows both students and lecturers to access material wherever they are and on any device.  

With all data contained centrally, end-user research is safe from any would-be hackers or security threats, meaning IT teams can sleep a little easier

Flexibility and convenience is extended to printing as well through ‘follow-me’ printing, an innovative technology which works well with the “access from anywhere” provided by client virtualisation. Students and staff can stop at the most convenient printer and print their work, using smart cards to authenticate the process. 

Benefit from easier maintenance and support

Another headache addressed is the need for university IT teams to attend to desktops located across large campus sites. With client virtualisation, software redeployment is done remotely from the datacentre and built-in diagnostics enable remote troubleshooting. This reduces downtime and enables faster issue resolution, efficient patch management and dynamic provisioning of user applications and data, thereby minimising help-desk calls and freeing IT staff to focus on more strategic tasks. Hardware set up and maintenance time is also reduced, and ongoing support workloads can be decreased by up to 80%. 

Migrations to new operating systems such as from Windows XP to Windows 7, or Windows 7 to Windows 10 can provide real challenges for universities. Often faculties rely on specialist applications from small developers who may be slow in delivering versions supporting the new operating system.  The University of York offers an example of how client virtualisation can address this. Both specialist software required by the faculties and estate management software needed for the effective running of the University were incompatible with Windows 7.  Delivering these applications in their own isolated environments using client virtualisation enabled the University to complete its Windows 7 migration on time and reduce its IT management workload. 

Decouple hardware from software

Students are often unable to access specialist applications, especially those used in research, from more than one location – a significant disadvantage for universities that have paid handsomely to obtain software licenses. With legacy IT, this kind of expensive software is married to physical machines but, if universities virtualise, students and staff can gain flexible access whilst complying with strict application licencing. Client virtualisation lets students and researchers access applications from any device, whether at home, on campus or ‘in the field’.

Enjoy security in an insecure world 

Last, but certainly not least, client virtualisation improves security. IT teams often have to deal with disparate individual machines across large campuses, which can make security updates difficult to install and monitor. VDI both harmonises and expedites security updates as they are deployed from one location. With all data contained centrally, end-user research is safe from any would-be hackers or security threats, meaning IT teams can sleep a little easier.

Universities operate in a continually changing environment, facing new market, regulatory, digital and global changes. Client virtualisation ensures a future-ready, engaging, agile and mobile learning experience that is secure, flexible and easy to manage. This solution can only be positive for university budgets and IT teams across the UK.  

W: www.dell.com