Virtualization of University Campus for Students

Tom West, M.B.A., CIO, Nova Southeastern University
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At Nova Southeastern University (NSU) the technology needs of students, faculty and staff are being continually evolved to better serve and enable learning outcomes and positive student experience. The department of the Office of Innovation and Information Technology (OIIT), under the direction of Tom West, NSU CIO serves the information technology needs of the university.

One of the key priorities for OIIT, which is also captured in the department’s name, is innovation. Innovation drives the technology improvements being provided to NSU while lowering operating costs, a common concern for many universities.

Doing more with less requires innovation. It is also a core tenant of success. At NSU, several innovation projects are underway that combine and achieve both of these outcomes. One of the best examples of innovation projects underway at NSU is the drive to virtualize servers, storage and network resources. As many educators are finding, virtualization projects are enablers of just in time computational resource delivery, on a near real-time demand basis, at highly competitive costs.

NSU has completed virtualization of the back-end computational services (servers, storage and networks) and now focusing on the drive to virtualize edge devices. Edge devices include the large number of computers in labs, simulation stations, tablet devices, point of sale devices, signature pads, and small-scale data capture stations in use university- wide.

Each of these edge devices may be virtualized. The benefits of operating these devices as virtual devices works to drive out costs, improve the ease of use for end users, all while better securing the platforms and information being delivery by them.

NSU’s OIIT department is on a mission to replace all of its edge devices with lightweight clients’ running virtual storefront or desktops instances. The goal of the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployment will improve technology access, reduce costs, improve information security, and make it easier to manage and support edge or end user devices.

Given the direction to virtualize edge devices, we in OIIT have set the following objectives:

• Provide students with ubiquitous access to university software.
• Provide students with 24x7 hour access to information resources.
• Supportstudent use of diverse technology devices.

OIIT also established the following key requirements:

• Students need the ability to leverage existing software licenses.
• Students need a common experience in physical computer labs.
• Solution provides same user experience across platforms.
• Lower costs and decrease physical device footprint.

Using these requirements, we began to explore a low cost high benefit solution for the thousands of computers located within computer labs at our main campus in Fort Lauderdale and our regional campuses located throughout Florida and Puerto Rico.

This is where virtualization was immediately deployed to address the objectives and requirements listed above. By using the provisioning services to deliver a "Golden Image" to the standard computer labs we have been able to cut the support hours and lengthen the replacement cycle of the assets at the edge. This has allowed OIIT to grow our talent and foster growth within, by being able to take desktop support technicians and train them to be virtual engineers.

With every deployment instance lessons were learned, and through this we learned to keep the images small and package as many applications with XenApp type technology was possible.

This allows for more agility and best utilizes existing software and hardware assets. With the recent announcement of a new college within Nova Southeastern University, the College of Engineering and Computing, which will provide a new Bachelor of Science degree in general engineering starting in fall 2016. This engineering school, our teams were planning how to leverage application virtualization in order to be able to provide the large engineering application across the university instead of in a dedicated lab. With this strategy we allowed the new engineering students to access their applications, anytime, anyplace and with any device.

“The benefits of operating these devices as virtual devices works to drive out costs, improve the ease of use for end users, all while better securing the platforms and information being delivery by them”

A new report from Millennial Media and comScore revealed that online content Internet users in the United States consumed more frequently on mobile devices than desktop computers. According to the data, 56 percent of online content is now consumed via smartphones (44 percent) and tablets (12 percent) while just 44 percent is consumed on desktop computers.

Using this data, OIIT is developing our idea of an application portal called the "Shark Cloud" which will house most of the applications that are currently installed within the universities computer labs so that students can utilize the BYOD approach instead of being tied to a computer lab. Faculty, students and staff will have 24/7, on-demand access to a library of popular software from any computer, Android or iOS device anywhere with an Internet connection.

There will be tangible benefits for students as well, by this approach. Students need not have to purchase and install software on their own machines, which required technical expertise. By installing the free client, students have access to preconfigured virtual machines and applications with all of the software they need.

Overall, infrastructure virtualization helps to address some of the technology delivery challenges facing higher education institutions today, allowing technology teams to focus on other priorities. The NSU OIIT virtualization strategy is helping OIIT better focus on and alignstechnology resources to what matters most, NSU student outcomes.

As Nova South­eastern University’s Chief Information Officer, Tom West, M.B.A. is charged with leveraging tech­nology to support strong student-centered administrative systems; advancing the University’s re­search and mission; empowering fac­ulty teaching, knowledge production and technology transfer; and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the univer­sity’s operations. During his tenure with NSU, West has successfully managed the IT infrastructure of one of the coun­try’s largest, not-for-profit institutions of higher learning while continually seeking innovative solutions to IT challenges and identifying and implementing the latest, most effective computer solutions.

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