Realising it needed to create a more ﬂexible IT environment, giving students access to university applications though any device and from any location, Aberdeen put out a carefully considered budgeted tender for a solution. After evaluating a number of responses, the University of Aberdeen opted for Phoenix Software’s proposal for a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) using VMware Horizon.
“With all things considered, VMware came out on top. It not only ﬁtted in with our budget, but we felt we got more bang for our buck. It didn’t seem to be as restrictive in terms of the infrastructural back-end. Although our use of Horizon would still have a hardware tie in, as we’d still need to provide some PCs on campus, it seemed far less excessive than the hardware we would have had to purchase with some of the other solutions we looked at – and we obviously didn’t want to spend much on CapEx when it wasn’t necessary. Phoenix Software was also able to offer well-priced licensing as well.”
Once the decision had been made, Phoenix Software was then called on site to help deploy the solution. Starting at the end of August, the VDI solution was up and running that October.
Access from anywhere, with any device
Since VMware Horizon was deployed, both the teaching and learning experience at the University of Aberdeen has been completely transformed – with student satisfaction already on the rise as a result. Thanks to the virtual desktop solution, there’s no longer a need to route access from desktops through the outdated proxy server, which is long gone. Instead, each student and staff member has their own virtual desktop, loaded with the applications and systems they need access to as per their course. As these desktops are separated from hardware, the end user can simply log on to their own desktop remotely with access to their own personal applications – from any device and from anywhere with internet access.
“The feedback from our latest student survey is that students love how much more ﬂexible they can be in their learning. They can study anywhere they need to, whether that’s in their halls of residence, on campus, in a local coffee shop – or even at the pub. They don’t have to go and try and ﬁnd a classroom that isn’t booked or one of the open learning spaces with PCs in them to do their work.”
Rowley is conﬁdent that the new IT infrastructure will play a key component in improving student satisfaction at the University.
The University of Aberdeen refers to its new approach to IT as a ‘ﬂipped classroom’ – with VMware Horizon, the students can do preparatory work for their lectures at their own pace, from any location.
Rowley explains: “Thanks to the virtual desktop solution, students and staff now have the ﬂexibility to work in exactly the way that suits them best, so they can get the most from their time here. Some might want to use a high-end laptop to do research, others will have a tablet they’ll refer to see where a particular book is in the library and then there are some that will just want to use their smartphone to catch up on course notes. We can now support all of these different methods with access to the right learning tools across all of those devices, rather than restricting them to speciﬁc end points. There’s no compromise needed now. A student doesn’t have to come all the way into campus to access a certain system on one of our PCs, they can now just log on from home.”
Impressive graphics on any device
As well as creating a more ﬂexible study environment, the remote access to some of Aberdeen’s high-end, graphically-intense applications has been very well received. As Rowley notes, “One of the interesting anecdotes we had was from one of the engineering lecturers – he had a lower-grade Android tablet. He was able to connect up to the VDI infrastructure, run one of the high-end engineering packages – MattLab – and effectively manipulate/render that 3D model on the screen of his 10-inch tablet. That was a real ‘wow’ moment – it was quite the achievement to have it display so well on a lower-end device – he was blown away by it.
“Thanks to VMware, we’re now in good stead to improve the student experience at the University,” concluded Rowley. “After all, if you’ve set up an environment where academics can deliver the best teaching and students have the most effective ways of learning, it not only attracts top teaching talent, it means the students are getting the most from their time here as well.”