The scientists of the future are embracing consumer-simple, enterprise-secure digital workspace solutions at UMass Lowell. With more than 17,750 students—and a strategic plan to increase enrollment to 20,000 over the next few years—this university is known for its educational initiatives in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Part of that mission is providing easier access to computationally complex and expensive STEM software packages.
What started as a simple need for more space on campus grew into an initiative that brought virtual desktops and simplified application access to students, faculty and staff. In 2013, the university needed to find a way to reclaim classroom space to teach its growing student body. The school was “bursting at the seams,” according to Steve Athanas, the school’s director of platforms and systems engineering.
“VDI, for us, started as a way to turn computer labs back into usable teaching space. But it turned out to be significantly more than that. Our VDI story is about fundamentally transforming the way we teach and the way we conduct business.”
To learn more about how UMass Lowell uses digital workspace solutions to simplify access to education, read the case study.
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UMass Lowell uses VMware Horizon for virtual desktops,VMware App Volumes to distribute applications and VMware User Environment Manager to maintain application settings across sessions. Through a portal called vLabs, UMass Lowell users can access university virtual desktops and apps from anywhere at any time, on any device.
According to Athanas, “Once students realized they were able to access their applications anytime and anywhere, it changed how they functioned as students.” Instead of having to log time in an on-campus computer lab, students could bring a mobile device with them and study whenever it’s convenient. “That’s really important because a huge percentage of our students have either full-time or part-time jobs as they’re achieving their education,” said Athanas.
“The way that VMware is simplifying app distribution is really huge. It means my team spends less time setting up and more time working with our ultimate customers, delivering value to the organization.”
Partnerships for Education
VMware technology partners are playing important roles in the UMass Lowell IT department and in campus academics. The school recently launched a high-performance Horizon cluster with virtual graphics processing units (GPUs) from NVIDIA. Computationally and graphics-intensive design and engineering programs now run on any student or faculty device that can run a Horizon desktop. The university has added additional NVIDIA GPU support to its base image to support the graphical look and feel of a Windows 10 deployment.
Athanas cited VMware partner StacksWare as a critical addition to his IT arsenal. StacksWare metrics for App Volumes deployments provide real-time, deep inspection of application usage.
“This software can tell me right now which users on campus are using which applications, where they’re using them from and how long they’re using them. I can roll all that up and make better decisions about software licenses for the campus. It’s been really transformative for us.”
From “It Works” to “Thank You”
Athanas cited a UMass Lowell study showing that 66 percent of students said that vLabs improved their academic success.
“You know you’re hitting the right mark when instead of users saying ‘It works,’ or ‘It hasn’t had any problems,’ they come up to you and say, ‘Thank you.’ We’re now in a position where faculty and especially students say, ‘Thank you, this has saved me time, this has saved me effort, my job is easier, my academics are easier.’ That’s transformative.”