Making universities work again in 2020
At the start of the 2020 academic year, universities and colleges all over the world faced a unique set of challenges.
As well as the usual commercial and market pressures that all institutions have to contend with, they also faced a significant new ‘people problem’ brought on by the Covid 19 pandemic. They are by definition places where people come together to exchange ideas and learn, but how can this be done safely in universities and colleges while also respecting social distancing?
For many institutions, the answer has lain with technology. Universities are increasingly turning to their IT departments to enable them to offer remote learning opportunities, leaning into their IT investments to help them through a difficult time. But not all IT departments are equally prepared to meet this challenge.
“The issue for many is that they have well-spec’ed lab computers all over their campus, but that’s not what’s required right now. Students need access to computing resources and they need that access remotely because they’re not on site anymore,” said Brian Smyth, technical lead for Codec around Microsoft Azure solutions.
“Being able to offer access to lectures for students, broadcast abilities to lecturers and general access to university resources remotely is a huge deal in 2020, and we don’t know how long the situation we’re in is going to last. Undoubtedly, It isn’t going to be resolved quickly.”
Windows Virtual Desktop as a Solution
Codec is working on a pilot programme with a well-known university that illustrates the role that the creative use of technology can play. In particular, Smyth’s 20-year experience with delivering resources remotely through technology has come to the fore.
Using Windows Virtual Desktop, Codec is helping to facilitate remote access to learning for over 1,000 users from one campus. In this pilot programme, students can use any device they have access to in order to use the full processing power of the university’s systems remotely.
Using a native client app or even just a web browser, students and faculty members can use a PC, Mac, laptop, tablet or even a smartphone to run applications on remote servers, deliver lectures or complete course work.
The net result for the university’s IT department is that instead of having to provide technical support to a potentially enormous range of platforms and devices, it can work with a vastly simplified system.
“We’re supporting around 130 specialised applications through this system, so all 130 of those apps are available to students to access and use through their own devices. And because the heavy lifting in terms of processing is done by the university’s systems in the cloud, it really doesn’t matter what kind of access device they use,” said Smyth.
“The cost of trying to support all of these different applications on different platforms, operating systems and access devices any other way would be prohibitively expensive. No university could afford to do that.”
Using this system also has significant advantages from a security point of view. Because the applications are served remotely from the cloud and data is stored in the cloud, that makes the system extremely secure.
“To my mind, this style of remote access, where the data is never actually stored locally, is more rather than less secure. The alternative is that people wander around a campus with USB keys moving data around or e-mailing it to each other,” said Smyth.
“There are also additional security mechanisms built into the system such as multi-factor authentication that allow us to make sure any person using the system is who they say they are. This means that sensitive data never leaves the university’s equipment – all the user is getting is a window into that data, they don’t ever actually have it stored locally.”
Whats next for Universities?
The challenge for universities and colleges hoping to replicate this kind of functionality is finding the right company to partner with. This isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“You need to make sure that whoever implements a system like this understands what the technology is and how to work with it. Once you have the right partner, of if you have that particular skill in-house, you’ll be okay,” said Smyth.
“The other challenge is that a remotely delivered system is only as good as the quality of the data connection the user has access to. It doesn’t need super-fast internet, but it does need a minimum requirement.”
Windows Virtual Desktop for Education combines the scale, security, and cost benefits of Azure and Microsoft 365 to deliver a virtualised modern desktop.
As a Microsoft Gold Partner and certified within the Azure Migration Program, Codec can offer the highest levels of skills and services around your Azure environment.
To help on your journey, Microsoft and Codec are offering the following incentives:
If you would like to get in touch to discuss your own requirements, please contact James Duffy directly – firstname.lastname@example.org.