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California CCs Expand Virtual Labs for IT Courses

The California Community Colleges system has gone public with its use of an IT virtualized lab. The country's largest system of higher education is working with NETLAB+, a remote access application from Network Development Group (NDG) that lets faculty and students schedule and perform lab exercises for their IT courses.

Almost 50 of the system's community colleges are using NETLAB+, in a regional sharing model. The college system is also running a blended user group that brings educators and administrators together online to share questions and ideas on how to implement the virtual computer lab environment in their classrooms.

Currently, the virtual lab is supporting courses in forensics, cybersecurity, networking, Linux and computer support.

Sessions can be scheduled for entire classes or self-study lab time. NETLAB+ includes configuration file management tools for loading and saving configurations by device or an entire lab. The application also records the commands issued on all virtual routers, switches and firewalls and can be reviewed by the instructor. Configuration files and device output are also saved with each lab session.

The user group recently published an interview with Jim Cosentino, administrator for the college system's northern region schools hub, which is hosted at Folsom Lake College.

"NETLAB+ gives colleges the ability to do remote labs with equipment they don't typically have," he explained in that article. "The lab setups are made up of one to eight virtual computers called a pod. This is not something easy to do in a physical lab on campus."

When that lab went online in time for the spring 2016 semester, the hub incorporated:

  • A Cisco 3650 series switch;
  • Two Cisco 9372 fiber switches;
  • Three NETLAB+ appliances, which each serve up to 160 simultaneous virtual computers;
  • Eight student hosts running on VMware EXS;
  • A Nimble CS500 storage area network; and
  • One management host.

Cosentino said he expected to add two NETLAB+ appliances and two more management hosts to accommodate an additional 320 simultaneous virtual computers.

The Bay Area Community College Consortium also hosts a NETLAB+ hub to serve that area's 28 community colleges.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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