Animal House (1978)

I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, but there is a growing trend on University campuses around the globe. And if, like me, you are the parent of a soon-to-be college freshman (fingers crossed), it could impact you in a number of ways.

I’m talking about the demise of the traditional computer lab. You remember the computer lab. That room full of tables–row after row–lined with monitors and underneath, a PC spitting dust from its fan all over the asbestos tile floor. You would have certain “lab hours” in which you would sign up to do your research, homework, projects and more.

And if you went to a toga party on Tuesday night and slept through your scheduled lab time on Wednesday morning, you were out of luck. Take it from me.

Today, more and more Universities are moving away from the traditional brick and mortar computer lab and shifting to a centrally hosted lab environment with XenApp.

The question you may be asking is, how are they doing this?

The How of Now

If you think about it, hosting virtual desktops and applications and providing them to people anywhere, on any device, is not new. We have been doing it for years with XenApp and XenDesktop. But because of the demands of students studying for degrees in Engineering, Architecture, Design, and other graphically demanding subjects, VDI and virtualized applications were not always a good fit.

Basically, the demands of applications like AutoCAD, ArcGIS, Photoshop etc. were too much for remote hosting. It was a better user experience to load them locally where they could leverage high end Graphical Processing Units (GPU). Or in the absence of a GPU these apps would peg the CPU to 100% processing their large design files. Rendering an image of a building design can be a heavy tax on a chip, local or remote.

However, in the US, Universities like Georgia Tech realized that with the advances that NVIDIA GRID boards have made, VDI was not only a possibility, but a real solution. By adding either K1 or K2 GRID boards into their data center and hosting desktops on XenDesktop they are able to not only provide a local like graphical experience in a virtual environment, but also share these GPU’s with multiple students, simultaneously. In fact with the K1 board and XenDesktop vGPU support they could get up to 32 students per board. This conjures up images of students cramming into a single phone booth.

Life Magazine (1959)

Why fix what ain’t broken?

I know what you’re asking yourself. You’re asking, “Why would the university go through this if the traditional lab still worked just fine?” And I am so glad you asked (thank you very much). The benefits are numerous and are advantageous to both student and University. Heck, even to you as the parent of a student.

First, to the University, they are now able to support 32 demanding students on one GRID board with XenDesktop rather than 32 individual PC’s with local GPUs. Computers that all needed to be upgraded on regular cycles. Computers that all needed to be individually supported. Now, everything is central and secure in their data center. And accessible from any device, anywhere.

Second, without those physical labs, now they can reappropriate those rooms for other purposes. College real estate is very expensive, and getting “free” rooms is a huge win. New rooms for other purposes, purposes that could actually drive additional revenue from more tuition. Courses such as, “What if Harry Potter were real?” Yup, real course. #ProudPapa

For the student–or, more to the point,for the parent–there is no longer a requirement imposed by certain universities to buy expensive, high-end laptops with local GPUs. This is huge. This is a differentiator in competing universities vying for those same engineering students. If I can send my son to college with a $300 Chromebook instead of a $5,000 laptop, my wallet will feel pretty darned good about that. Especially when I look at all the other costs I’m getting ready to incur.

Oh, and there is no more missed lab time due to having the “Bud Light Flu,” or inclement weather, or a missing shoe. The student can access their virtual desktop and apps from their dorm room, in the middle of the night, on their Chromebook, iPhone, or their roommate’s tablet.

In the end, it comes down to what it always comes down to with XenApp and XenDesktop. Greater flexibility, a better user experience, and increased security. All I have to do now is convince my son that the money I am saving on a lower priced end point is not for his Beer Account.

To view the Georgia Tech session from #CitrixSynergy click here. No, not there. Here!