The IT manager at Dublin Business School (DBS) Eddie Ormonde explains how moving to virtual desktops has met tactical and strategic goals: freeing IT budget for other projects while putting the college ahead of competitors.
Can you outline what your IT estate looks like – how many users are there and how extensive is the network?
We have a large heterogeneous network comprised of Juniper, Cisco and 3com networking, along with Dell, HP and NetApp servers and a number of tablets and other devices.
The network is distributed over five buildings; Aungier Street, Castle House, Dame Street, Balfe Street and Bow Lane. There are up to 450 students utilising Citrix VDI and 250 staff on standard desktops at any one time but we have closer to 10,000 user accounts in the systems.
What are the main applications you use ?
From an operational perspective, we use a large number of applications, including a large number of Microsoft applications. We also use Prestige/Quercus, various Adobe products, Sage Accounts package, Solarwinds toolkit and IP monitor, Ringmaster wireless manager.
There are also a significant number of applications available to the student population to facilitate psychology and social science, law, business and management, accounting and finance, professional accountancy, marketing and event management, media and journalism courses.
You recently implemented a Citrix virtual desktop infrastructure – can you outline what the project involved, what you’re using it for and what were the reasons for doing this?
The existing technology we had in place was hindering the growth and development of the college and the quality of the course programme on offer to students. With ambitious expansion plans to launch a number of new IT courses, we realised we needed to take a new technology approach to our lab facilities to be able to accommodate a greater volume of classes, with more demanding hardware requirements.
We implemented Citrix VDI-in-a-box to offer our students a greater variety of classes and flexible study options, maximising learning time in the classroom, and reducing log in and application load times.
Your IT management was simplified and you’ve reduced the cost of handling support calls – tell me how that works in practice?
DBS offers approximately 100 accredited courses, with a large number of classes being run from IT labs. Previously, DBS had to dedicate certain labs to classes based on the software available on PCs in a particular lab. For example, web development classes were specifically tied to a lab with PCs that had Dreamweaver installed, making for a very rigid and inflexible timetable.
Working with Unity Technology Solutions, we implemented Citrix VDI-in-a Box and NetScaler Access Gateway and this has allowed the DBS IT team to deliver a centrally managed, personalised virtual desktop to any user in any location on campus.
It is now much easier to manage the IT infrastructure, delivering a dynamic suite of software that can be updated, changed and distributed in a 12-hour turnaround. The VDI-in-a-Box management console means that just one team member is needed to monitor all active student and staff sessions. Support calls have therefore dropped, as it is easier for staff and students to log on and off to bring up a new PC and application.
What other business benefits came about as a result?
From a user perspective, staff and students can access desktops and applications from any PC on campus, quickly and easily, meaning they can work much more flexibly from a variety of locations. At the same time, IT can retain overall governance of data and applications from one central location.
This project has also freed up restrictions on classroom scheduling, allowing us to expand our portfolio of courses, while also providing an easier system for managing the IT infrastructure.
Was there any strategic element to this project: does DBS think that it makes the college more attractive for students, for example?
The implementation of Citrix technology has delivered significant benefits for staff and students and has put DBS at least two years ahead of its competitors. We can now operate a larger and flexible course programme, as well as paving the way for more online and blended learning.
Students are reaping the rewards since login times are now 40pc quicker and high-resource programmes are also opening 50pc faster. This has reduced time wasted waiting for applications to load and therefore maximising learning time in the lab.
Since presumably there was some cost saved as a result, are you able to use that budget for other IT projects, or will your overall IT spend decline now that this is in place?
The projected ROI [return on investment] of this project frees up money in the budget which can now be invested in blended learning and improved student experience. Staying technologically innovative will always be expensive. At least with the new system, the majority of our budget can be spent on improvement instead of maintaining basic hardware.
If the spend stays the same, what types of projects will the savings be used for?
The DBS Citrix project is planned as a three-phase project, so some of those funds will definitely be invested in phase two of the Citrix project, which aims to introduce persistent desktops for ICT students and an increased utilisation of BYOD capabilities, VDI-in-a-Box offers, which maximises the students’ learning experience during their time at DBS.
Was Citrix implemented with one eye on the ‘bring your own device’ trend we’re hearing so much about lately?
Eventually, staff and students will also be able to use their own devices on the corporate network. As a leading provider of third-level education, we are committed to aiding students and staff in creating a 21st-century learning environment. As a part of the testing process, we utilised iPads and Windows 8 tablets to demonstrate its ease of use.
Will DBS be introducing a BYOD policy and if so, how do you intend to handle issues like security, and who takes responsibility for supporting the device?
We already allow BYOD at a limited level for email access. We will follow a standard BYOD framework and modify to suit our needs as required.
Does the virtual desktop change how you approach issues like information security?
No. With the use of Citrix NetScaler Access Gateway, we have the ability for greater access to the network – however, we have always followed a ‘locked down by default’ policy.
What’s your view of cloud computing – an essential part of the toolkit or you’re not yet ready for it?
We have utilised cloud-based services for our students and found it can be quite an expensive option for our particular needs. We don’t currently utilise any applications that would be better served from the cloud; our environment is such that we would still need to retain a number of in-house servers, even were we to migrate to cloud services. However, it may be an option to revisit in the future.
What other IT projects do you have planned for the year ahead?
My priorities for this year include expanding our wireless network, continuing to make our wired network more resilient, and enhancing our business continuity processes to ensure the student experience is not impacted should we experience any kind of service degradation.
Describe your own role – how many parts technology and how many parts business?
Technology is always going to be at the heart of everything I do, however, I think that it is important to understand the broader business imperatives to be able to do my job effectively. I would say around 75pc of my time is spent focused on business and strategy.