With the 2019-2020 academic year a wash for colleges and universities, attention is now turning to what the coming academic year will look like. Delivering value to students, particularly if its determined that a continuation of virtual learning is the safest course of action, is of paramount importance. As has been shared in several recent news articles colleges and universities have taken a significant financial hit from the COVID-19 crisis in terms of loss of revenue from room and board refunds, loss of sports revenues, endowment losses, and the very real concern that students slated to be the Class of 2024 might not enroll next year.
The GovDataDownload team recently caught up with industry expert, Matt Lawson to discuss how higher education institutions can deliver value to both students and researchers by fast tracking digital transformation. Keep reading below to find out how moving to the cloud and enabling VDI can help.
Colleges, universities, and higher education facilities across the United States have joined the rest of the world in attempting to address and cope with the challenges of COVID-19. In these unprecedented times, every sector has been impacted, yet each has a unique set of challenges to protect public health and safety and provide business continuity. For higher education institutions, the shift to virtual learning environments is required to ensure social distancing and protect the student body, while continuing teaching and learning. While many have moved to online learning, not all institutions are prepared for a virtual environment.
“Before COVID-19 hit the U.S., higher education customers were focused on digital transformation,” Matt Lawson, principle architect for State and Local Government and Education for NetApp Public Sector, told us. “COVID-19 essentially is fast-tracking the need for digital transformation overnight. In the case of higher education, this sector has been progressive in the adoption of virtual learning, but when you look across the country, institutions are at varying degrees of implementation.”
Higher education institutions are “all over the map” according to Lawson. Some took advantage of online learning to create a global reach to students, increasing admissions without having to invest in additional infrastructure such as building and facilities. Others have taken a more residential approach focused on maintaining the student experience on campus, including face-to-face interaction with peers, professors and staff.
Today’s pandemic environment has put a great deal of pressure on these institutions to quickly adapt to a virtual learning experience. Lawson outlined the crux of the challenge for higher education institutions as follows: “Consider the student computer labs within each department on a campus. Each of the desktops have specialized software and applications and specialized data sets installed for the department’s labs. This is still the primary mechanism for delivering software and applications to the student to complete their study.”
“How are they going to deliver a specialized experience to the students, wherever they are, over the Internet?” is the question that many of the IT leaders on campus are struggling to address according to Lawson.
Yet, it’s not only the student experience that needs to be addressed. Each department has faculty and staff that likely have desktop machines under their desk that house special programs, software, and applications. IT departments need to think about how these systems will be accessed remotely, if they are web-enabled.
Moving to the cloud and enabling virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is one way that higher education institutions are transforming the learning experience for students, faculty, administrators, and staff. While some universities and colleges have already moved to the cloud, there are now new VDI applications that enable IT departments to quickly expand the service without new on-premise infrastructure costs.
Lawson said that Windows Virtual Desktop is the most popular technology used by higher education and works with Azure NetApp Files to “help organizations move to virtual desktops in the cloud without experiencing any performance degradation.” It makes the overall experience better with higher reliability and a high-performance storage service that is simple to use and easy to customize to the need of the university or other institution, Lawson told us.
For those that haven’t transitioned to the cloud yet, there are a few things to consider, according to Lawson. Whether it is on-prem, off-prem or a hybrid cloud approach, Lawson said that customers have turned to NetApp for the flexibility and agility to move to the cloud as they see fit. “If a college or university is looking to build from scratch and do not have any VDI footprint at all, they may consider an HCI solution,” Lawson said. “It is a 100 percent NetApp provided solution where we provide all the infrastructure resources to build out a system that seamlessly scales to any number of desktops needed.”
As IT leaders are considering which approach is best for them, Lawson advises them to consider the following:
Understand your organization’s appetite for CAPEX versus OPEX spending. Every organization is different, Lawson said.
Consider which model works the best for your organization’s culture. Do you want to invest in infrastructure on-prem that will grow and scale over the next five years, or do you want to limit infrastructure costs?
Develop a view of how many users will be on the system. Consider the number of students, faculty, staff, and administrators that need access and peak times of use. What are their needs? Look at historical network traffic to make an educated guess.
Lawson, a father with children who range from ages three to 19, said that while this pandemic might be forcing the hand for digital transformation and virtual learning, technology is playing a major role in keeping students connected. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I believe we’ll come out stronger on the other side,” he concluded.
Learn more about virtual learning and remote teaching in this new webinar, “Ramp Up Remote Teaching and Learning with FlexPod VDI.”
The original version of this article appeared on GovDataDownload on April 2, 2020