IT Trends | Project Spotlight
Freed-Hardeman U Calls on Desktop Virtualization for Computing Mix and Match
- By Dian Schaffhauser
Freed-Hardeman University (FHU) has adopted a cloud-based service to provide virtual desktops to users. The Henderson, TN institution chose Desktone's Desktop Cloud to deliver desktops for staff and students on a variety of endpoint devices, including iPads, MacBooks, and Windows PCs. Among the uses: mobile computing labs, application access for student workers, and advancement staff armed with Apple iPads who can now access their department's unique applications while out and about meeting with potential donors.
According to Greg Maples, director of network operations, for several years the university had been considering a purchase of virtual desktop technology from a major vendor that would allow the institution to deliver desktops, applications, and data decoupled from the underlying hardware to users from its own datacenter. That would allow users to continue running legacy applications that require older Windows environments on their newer computers or to run Windows applications on their Apple computers.
That particular solution is not "cheap," he said. "We saved for a couple of years, asked for it [in the budget cycle] for a couple of years, and finally heard, 'Yes, let's do it.'" But before the software was purchased, a member of the IT organization read an article about virtual desktops that included Desktone's offering. Maples called the company for pricing information and decided it was worth looking at. "Not only was it cheaper, we didn't have to buy all of it at once," he noted. Plus, the school didn't have to invest in new hardware since the virtual desktops were delivered as a service through an Internet browser.
The scalability of the pricing scheme was a major attraction, Maples said, because it's easier to persuade campus units to adopt the technology. "You can just add up your users. If you need more, great. If you need less, great. We just adjust up and down and pay for what we use. It's a lot easier for us to sell to end users, and it's a lot easier for us to back out."
Desktop Cloud pricing starts at $30 per month per desktop for a Windows 7 Enterprise virtual desktop. The IT person selects a configuration mix of operating system, performance, and storage; maps users to a given configuration; and uses an online portal to make changes as needed.
The Desktone service integrates with the university's authentication method, Active Directory. Each group--such as admissions or advancement--has a desktop "image," the various applications required by that set of users. When somebody needs access to the software used by a particular group, IT simply drags that person's Active Directory persona to that group to grant access to the image. "I can give a desktop to a user in less than 15 minutes," Maples said.
iPad Usage for Advancement
Members of the advancement team have been given iPads to use while on the road. Those users can open a browser to access the university's administrative servers through a virtual tunnel created with Desktop Cloud to run the advancement software stored on campus servers. Whereas formerly they'd attend donor meetings or fund-raising events and enter pertinent data and notes afterwards, now they can enter it while meeting with people. "Even better, they can hand their iPad to someone to enter that information directly. When they get back to their car, they can import it right into our database immediately," said Jud Davis, director of marketing and university relations. "That has been huge for our advancement team as far as keeping up with contacts, making follow up calls, and doing follow up mailers" Plus, added Maples, the use of iPads projects an image of a school that's technically advanced.
Freed-Hardeman U currently has a MacBook program, in which each student is expected to come to campus with the Apple laptop. However, most staff members are using PCs running Windows applications. That OS mix presents a small challenge, Maples explained, when students are given temporary jobs assisting somebody on campus with office tasks. In the past, IT would "drag an old workstation out of the closet" for them to work on. Now, he said, students use their own desktops and connect to the Windows-based applications through a browser. When they're done with the job, IT revokes their access.
Maples said the university doesn't concern itself with user personalization or custom profiles. "We turned profiles off, because we didn't see the value," he explained. "We found that if we were trying to drag down a full profile for the users, when they logged on, there was a significant difference [in performance.] The users wanted speed over profiles."
However, one aspect of user personalization--printer access--is handled automatically by the software. "Users get whatever printers are mapped to their local machines," Maples said. "If they're here and they're signed on, they have their local printers connected to their office. When they're connected to Desktone, it prints to their local printers. I don't need to change anything."
No More Traditional Computing Labs
Because every student is equipped with a laptop, Maples added, the campus no longer has a need for traditional computing labs. However, because licenses to certain software are too pricey for students to buy, the virtual desktop approach has enabled IT to set up what he called "mobile computer labs." "Instead of installing the software on that machine in a computer lab, you're installing it to the virtual desktop image for that class and assigning that virtual desktop to a group of students. Next year, you assign it to the next group of students," he explained.
Since learning about Desktone's service, Maples said, "We have not looked back. It scales with a phone call, not a server replacement. It gives us the ability to 'go for it' on new directives or ideas without having to make a long-term commitment."
Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.