Computer lab ‘virtualization’ project under way

April 8, 2009 | News
By Tobin J. Klinger

Students wishing to have access to specialized software currently only available by physically traveling to a computer lab soon will be able to access these tools from anywhere, thanks to a new “computer lab virtualization project” being undertaken by Information Technology.

“This project will enable students, faculty and staff to have 24-7 access to programs and information available in our computer labs for use on their home PCs or on the road,” said Dr. Godfrey Ovwigho, vice president for information technology. “This will enhance access in ways that will be extremely beneficial to the student experience.”

He said virtual computer labs and virtualized applications “will not only provide 24-7 access, but also reduce the need for students, faculty and staff to commute to campus and help alleviate parking problems.”

IT is initially working to “virtualize” more than two dozen applications that are available through campus physical labs, with an ultimate goal of making 90 to 98 percent of all applications virtually available over the next several years.

In a virtual computer lab environment, UT users log into their UTAD account and access the typical and specialized programs they need on their personal machine via the Web.

“Ultimately, we will leave a portion of our physical labs in place to accommodate students who may not have access to a personal computer,” Ovwigho said. “However, we will also be offering an aggressive computer-leasing program in partnership with Dell Computers to enable students to obtain a personal laptop computer at a very low price, complete with software bundling and support services.”

Costs and details of the laptop-lease program are being negotiated.

Dr. Friedhelm Schwarz, professor of mathematics, was an early adopter of the virtual computer lab, using it in his Elementary Differential Equations class. According to Schwarz, the response from students using the virtual lab has been extremely positive, with students appreciating the new way to access software without having to travel to campus. In fact, one student said the system “worked to perfection.”

“This is a fantastic way of moving technology forward,” said Schwarz, who has long advocated for technological innovation in teaching. “We need to make sure we maintain enough physical computer labs on campus, but we also need to find new ways for students to access these tools from off campus. It is exciting that the University is moving in this direction.”

“This process will take approximately two to three years,” Ovwigho said. “However, when we are finished, we will not only have implemented a bold approach to the availability of technology, we will have freed up a good deal of space across our campuses for classroom or laboratory use.

“This new approach would not be possible without the proper technological infrastructure and the people to make it a reality,” Ovwigho added. “We will be one of only a handful of universities with this capability thanks to our employees’ skills and good work.”

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