Macquarie University has flagged plans to deliver faculty-specific virtual labs by semester two this year following the take-up of its virtualized computer labs.
The ‘iLab’ project, which was in pilot mode from October 2011 until its official launch this semester, enables students to use VMware View client applications on Mac, Windows and Linux PCs to access software that would otherwise be confined to the university’s computer labs. VMware View has also been made available for Android and iOS.
The university’s CIO, Marc Bailey, described the project as a “personal computer laboratory on the internet”, with the labs offered in Mac or Windows only, but there are talks to develop a Linux version in future depending on demand for iLabs.
In its busiest week, iLabs racked up 1328 users — who made up a total of 2640 page visits — with the figure predicted to increase five-fold.
The iLabs are currently for “general purpose computing”, with students having access to “mainstream software” such as iLife ’11 (excluding iMovie), iWork ’09, and Adobe Creative Suite 5 Design Premium on Mac, while Microsoft Office 2010, SPSS v20 and Endnote 4 are available on Microsoft.
Bailey said the university will extend the project to faculty-specific labs, with the intention for them to be delivered by semester two.
“We already have both Windows and Mac OS X generic iLab computing experiences available,” he said.
“Next, we’re going to offer different flavours of iLab, say if you happen to be a chemist, or another one if you happen to be an economist, or another one if you happen to be a law student.
“The limiting factor there is no longer technical, but just how quickly we can get the back-end resources together to get that packaged out to our students.”
Before the establishment of iLabs, the university had plans to launch a ‘Virtual Lab’, which attempted to make the physical lab more versatile for system administrators.
Bailey would not disclose the name of the provider, but did say the university experienced some technical difficulties with the Virtual Lab. It also failed to address the issue of students coming into the campus just to use the programs on the university’s computers, as well as needing more computers and hardware that would require Bailey to erect buildings to house them.
“We ditched the previous project because our approach was previously not customer-, consumer-centric; it was geek-centric,” Bailey said.
“It was all about how to make life easy for the system administrator as opposed to making life easy for the students.
“We took a hard look at that and found that yes, we had some performance and technical problems, but they would have eventually been soluble with time and money.
“The real issue was that the approach we were taking just wasn’t the right one to deal with consumer computing and that’s what we’re into here.”
Macquarie University has slated a number of projects in 2012, including a shift from bespoke services to scalable products; focussing on mobility and geocoding; improving student-facing systems such as enrolments, class registrations, and exam results releases; and the launch of an emergency broadcast system.
“So my view is that we need to focus on product, not service,” he said. “We need to look at Amazon, eBay, Google and transform internal IT into these kinds of one-click experiences.
“That's what we're trying to do at Macquarie and iLab is a really important kind of product to every student because it replaces any idea that we need to reach out and touch their world or force them to come into an arbitrary physical space.”
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