Customizing the computing experience for 100,000 users

Customizing the computing experience for 100,000 users

Combining a private cloud with dynamic desktop computing can deliver greater value to an organization and a tailored experience for users.

The vision was first born on a napkin. And it started with a question: Is it possible to deliver a dynamic, fully customized computing experience for 100,000 users—anytime, anywhere, through any device?

Attending a higher education conference, Link Alander, CIO of Lone Star College System (LSCS), and Steve Kaplan, vice president of Data Center Virtualization at Presidio, a leading technology service provider, reached for a pen and napkin and together began formulating the answer. They talked about education and how it can be enhanced through technology. They discussed the value and delivery of LSCS’s IT services. And they sketched ideas for application and desktop virtualization, ERP integration, and cloud computing.

Years later, the vision on the napkin has become a reality.

Creating a foundation for innovation
“We were at a critical juncture with IT,” Alander recalls. “To be honest, we weren’t delivering value to the college or our students. We were only fixing problems.”

The fastest growing community college in the United States, LSCS had long struggled with network outages, server failures, and bandwidth issues. Under the direction of new CIO Shah Ardalan, Alander was tasked with:

  • Improving IT services
  • Becoming more proactive
  • Creating greater value for LSCS faculty, staff, and students

“We are a support unit, but we were spending more time supporting our IT systems than our students and faculty,” Alander explains. “We needed to change our perspective and approach. And that meant thinking less about IT, and more about educational problems and opportunities. IT is just a tool.”

Instead of focusing on individual tools, Alander sought to develop a dynamic toolbox of technology services for LSCS. He wanted to give professors the ability to envision and place new applications and resources in the toolbox. He wanted to give students freedom to access the toolbox at any time, from any location, using any device. And he wanted the toolbox to deliver a seamless and customized experience for each user.

“We needed to create a foundation for innovation,” says Alander, “so we rebuilt everything.”

Before a private cloud could be developed, and before applications and desktops could be customized for students and faculty, LSCS needed to shore up its technology platform. Alander and his team deployed the Cisco® Unified Computing System™, based on Intel® Xeon®processors, plus EMC storage and VMware software as the “foundation for innovation” supporting LSCS’s six main campuses and 11 outreach centers.

“With a powerful and flexible platform in place,” Alander says, “we started looking at ways to leverage it to enhance student success and better prepare them for the future.”

Delivering a seamless, customized experience
To make IT services more transparent, accessible, and easy to use, Alander and his team have established a private cloud that delivers computing resources to the college system and its students. They’ve also employed external cloud services for certain applications using a seamless integration model.

“Students and faculty don’t need to know where computing resources and services come from, as long as they are reliable and secure,” notes Alander. “And it’s often less expensive to use external cloud services versus building and managing them on our own.”

A seamless computing experience is one thing. A seamless experience that is dynamic and fully customized for 100,000 users is quite another. To tailor the computing environment for each student and staff member, Alander and his team not only virtualized the school system’s applications and desktops, but also its users. Virtual user profiles are linked with a new ERP system and matched with course-specific services and computing resources.

“You can’t just take a model and instantly apply it to 100,000 users,” Alander explains. “We’re using a phased approach, starting with general use cases, then personalizing the computing experience with internal resources, and then incorporating resources outside our network.”

  • When students log in to the LSCS cloud, their desktop environment is automatically provisioned with the right applications—based on the classes in which they are enrolled—and the appropriate amount of bandwidth, memory, and storage.
  • As they log out, those compute resources are reallocated to active users to maximize utilization.

“Most organizations think of cloud and VDI [virtual desktop integration] as completely separate initiatives,” says Kaplan. “LSCS is bringing them together in unique and impactful ways.”

“We’re still exploring new ways to deliver applications and services through the cloud, and new ways to teach with technology,” adds Alander. “But we’ve come a long way, and we’ve received a tremendous amount of help from partners like Presidio. With a unified platform and a seamless, user-friendly computing experience, there are countless ways that we can spark innovation—inside and outside the classroom.”

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