Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences wants to support its students with the most flexible and modern computing environment. The recently introduced virtual datacenter based learning environment emulates real life environments that the information technology students are going to meet in real life. Traditional desktop computers are replaced with virtual desktops and thin client devices, freeing the institution of workspace dependency.
Providing education in business administration, information technology, hotel, restaurant and tourism sector, management assistance, education on journalism and sports studies and vocational teacher education, the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences computing system is a massive complex.
The institution has about 700 permanent employees, including more than 400 teachers and more than 250 people working in the administrative and support services, plus the interns and other short- term workers.
In addition of the staff the Haaga-Helia computing system is used by more than 10 000 students located in Pasila, Malmi, Vallila, Haaga, Porvoo and Vierumäki campuses. The very different kind of user groups, as well as the institutions geographical dispersion, posed big challenges to information system and network solutions.
Virtual data centers enhance information technology studies
Haaga-Helia took a clear lead in deciding to invest in virtual data centers and using Citrix CloudPlatform in their computing laboratories. The strategic objective of the institution is to support its students graduation and the virtual data centers were seen supporting that strategic choice, as they provide students more effective learning environment than traditional information technology solutions could do.
In the computing laboratories, students build a variety of environments with networks, firewalls and servers they will meet in real life after their graduation. In the past, Haaga-Helia tried to imitate the real world solutions with removable hard drives and disk images, but the solution was unwieldy and not actually responding to corporate information systems in the real world. With Citrix CloudPlatform every student receives a true corporate data center, which can be managed over the network even from their home.
"Citrix CloudPlatform provides each student opportunities to complex networking and firewalls management. The students are forced to build everything from the beginning, since the network starts without any access out", says Olavi Kurttio, IT-manager of Haaga-Helia.
Building the virtual data centers was not only a data management decision, there was a real need for them. The information technology side of the teachers involved in the project since the beginning wanting to develop the system from their own pedagogical starting points. The positive experiences from the desktop virtualization, as well as a properly sized server and disk systems, encouraged to drive computing laboratories towards terminal independence. "We did the calculations and found that the licensing is more affordable than the real hardware environment. Fortunately, the teachers were prepared for the change. Cooperation with them has been very smooth, otherwise we would not have progressed so quickly", says Kurttio.
A unique system for the whole of Northern Europe
Haaga-Helia began its Citrix CloudPlatform implementation project in January 2013. After various tests, the CloudPlatform is now a part of the laboratory network, which can be accessed from the VDI based desktops and the campus network. The first students were able to use the system already at the beginning of the studies in the autumn of 2013. The laboratory environment is rated for a maximum of 500 simultaneous users.
Haaga-Helia Citrix CloudPlatform environment is so far unique in all of the Northern Europe. Thus the construction of the system was challenging, the people in the project had a strong commitment to help find solutions to any problems they faced. Mika Övermark from Comping Oy, who helped Haaga-Helia to build the system, marvels the low level of change resistance during the project.
"I am saluting them with the courage of pioneers whose role is often very heavy. The economic benefits of the project are difficult to assess, because the advantages offered by the system cannot be directly measured in monetary terms. I believe the opportunities offered by the CloudPlatform will increase the students interest to Haaga-Helia, as well as to increase and speed up the completion of the courses", says Övermark.
Citrix CloudPlatform implementations don't have to be tied to virtual desktops, but as Haaga-Helia remote access takes place in virtual workstations, so CloudPlatform users have to also be users of the virtual desktops.
"Sometime in the future, the CloudPlatform could be expanded to PaaS for application development, or use as the platform for the current VDI solution. Teaching has a lot of areas to be developed, by which the current environment can be extended", Övermark says.
Haaga-Helia students are IT experts and information management professionals of the future, who thanks to Citrix CloudPlatform, have an excellent opportunity to explore the modern cloud solutions already during their studies.
Virtual desktops for easy maintenance
Benefit In addition to the introduction of the virtual data centers, 2 years ago Haaga-Helia also implemented an extensive Citrix XenDesktop VDI deployment project, including all the staff and teaching premises devices. That project was complemented with Citrix XenApp application virtualization.
The key business areas of an educational institution are the classrooms, either hardware or theory classes. The hardware classes equipped with plenty of computers have traditionally been the administrative headache. If the installed software has to be updated, it has only been possible during the holidays. Thanks to virtual desktops, there is not any longer need to wait half of the academic year for the software changes.
"Also thanks to desktop virtualization, we get rid of workspace dependency. Workplaces can now be selected purely according to the number of devices. You no longer have to think about what applications are installed in the classroom", says Kurttio. All the staff workstations were virtualized along the virtualization of the classroom computers. Older devices were replaced with new thin clients, and newer workstations were downgraded to thin clients by removing the local hard drives. Most of the teachers working at home, have already pointed out the new system to be functional and convenient.
"The teachers have already said the VDI workstation solution to be faster than the traditional desktop workstation solution. The teachers, as well as supporting staff, are also pleased with the fact that the VDI desktop is always fresh. Windows workstation installations have a nasty way to erode over time, resulting requests for support", Kurttio says.
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