Macquarie University has flagged plans to virtualize many of its student computer labs from the second semester of this year, as part of a ploy to better utilise licensed software both on-premise at the university and remotely.
The ‘iLab’ project, to be made live in the second half of the year, will allow students to use the VMware View client applications on Windows, Mac and Linux PCs to access software usually confined to the computer labs at the institution. VMware View has also been made available for the iPad since March.
“Right now we’re bound by physical labs, and in fact different physical labs have different flavours,” Macquarie University CIO, Marc Bailey, said.
Describing the project as a “personal computer laboratory on the internet”, Bailey said the university would look to extend the labs to any research fields that did not involve ‘wet’ or hands-on technologies such as robotics or DNA.
“Does that work for nonlinear video editing like Avid or Final Cut? Probably not — that’s something that would be limited by hardware — but anything that involves a stats package, a database, a development IDE, we can provision that without having to be physically in front of the computer,” he said.
The university has had to review software licensing on a case-by-case basis in order to determine whether or not they were viable for use under the iLab scheme, but the majority of software will gradually become available as the project is rolled out from second semester. The VMware backend would allow the university to keep track of software licence use across users.
Bailey said he was hoping to do “a few new things” unavailable under VMware competitors such as Citrix, with the project likely to be deployed on-site on Oracle real application clusters such as those used to deliver student exam results each semester.
Similar projects have been trialled using VMware View at universities globally, with a research paper from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, documenting successful virtualization of thin clients at a ratio of approximately 18 thin clients per blade server.
iLab is one of three major IT initiatives undertaken by the institution this year, following the recent launch of its Datamart business intelligence suite in April. A third project, codenamed ‘Truth’, is expected to be an enterprise content management system, though Bailey could not reveal which vendors would be involved.
Bailey has recently entered his second year at the university, having spent much of 2010 upgrading the infrastructure there. Upgrades included installing gigabit connections at desktops around the university and upgrading the AARNet-provided fibre backbone to a gigabit connection. Wireless infrastructure was upgraded to 802.11n and is currently capable of 16,000 simultaneous connections. Bailey said the three data-centred projects, part of 56 wider initiatives on the roadmap, would look to leverage the infrastructure rolled out across the previous year and to instil a sense of “consumer computing” rather than tied-down operating environments at the university.
Macquarie University first undertook desktop virtualization of some internal computer labs during 2009, with iLab marking the first time it has looked to make the thin clients available remotely.
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