Mount San Jacinto College
Bringing the Classroom to Students with Client Virtualization
Nth Generation uses Intel technology to help Mt. San Jacinto College virtualize its educational environment - expanding student access and easing IT management
• Providing a secure, efficiently managed IT infrastructure for multiple campuses and a widely distributed student population
• Making essential but often costly learning software resources available to all students, regardless of location and financial capacity
• Extending learning opportunities across a large geographic area, including international users
• Hosting for at least 600 virtual clients on LAN and Internet connections
• A rich, easily accessed distance learning experience
• A centralized IT infrastructure for significant cost savings, greater security and ease of management
Mt. San Jacinto College (MSJC) is a Southern California community college with campuses in the cities of San Jacinto, Menifee and Temecula, as well as numerous satellite operations in locations such as local high schools. With a student population dispersed across 1,700 square miles of Riverside County (a service area roughly the size of New Jersey), MSJC had a vision of improving its information technology infrastructure to offer new online learning capabilities while making it easier to manage. Beginning in summer 2007, the college embarked on a long-range plan to implement a comprehensive virtualization solution that could be securely accessed by students and faculty, and easily maintained by a minimal IT staff.
One of the key objectives of the project was to reduce administrative overhead: MSJC has only six full-time technicians to manage 50 servers and more than 1,200 clients distributed over three campuses. Servers and clients must be available 7X24, “So we were looking for a more centralized way to manage our equipment and clients,” said Andre Uckert, ITS Network Coordinator for Mt. San Jacinto College’s Menifee Campus. “And, we wanted more flexibility in the platform for software configurations that we offer to the faculty and students.”
Education technology that can go the distance
Owing to its multiple campus system, Mt. San Jacinto College is highly committed to enhancing its capabilities in distance education, an application area that is growing at a rate of 25% per year in the number of students served and courses offered. In fact, the vision of using virtualization to enhance distance education is how project planners sold the district on making the considerable investment.
“From my own IT standpoint, we have a heavy workload, and the centralized administration and the reduction in administrative overhead was another selling point,” said Uckert. “We can have students from any campus accessing MSJC remotely and manage everything centrally here.” In a non-virtualized environment, if a physical computer somewhere breaks down, IT administrators must send a technician out to resolve the problem onsite – a much more time- and cost-intensive operation.
Nth Generation supplies the expertise
On the advice of a project team member, the college brought in Southern California-based IT infrastructure solutions provider Nth Generation, a specialist in server, client and storage virtualization solutions. MSJC project managers shared their vision with Nth Generation: to employ next-generation virtualization technology to host 600 virtual client machines concurrently on the college’s local area network as well as the Internet. Nth Generation came back with a detailed architecture and roll-out plan for an infrastructure based on Intel® Virtualization technology (Intel VT). In addition, Nth Generation provided the college’s IT team with training in virtual client infrastructure, Storage Area Networks and implementation.
“MSJC has a very progressive vision for the way its students and faculty can access a virtualized environment,” said John Randall, VP Marketing for Nth Generation. “When you think of a modern college or university, students are accustomed to accessing information from a wide variety of devices. In contrast to the “old days” when users were locked into desktops, MSJC has embraced a much more open and future-minded approach.”
Randall noted that in the college’s vision, “All clients have a place and Nth Generation helped them create an architecture that supports all types of clients, whether they access courseware on-campus, off-campus or even globally.” In the initial roll-out, Mt. San Jacinto College decided that rather than attempt to virtualize its entire environment, it would make rich clients – complete with OS and basic software configurations – available in classrooms and labs.
Today, educational networks such as MSJC’s have more choices than thin-client terminals or rich-client desktops and notebooks: a new solution, Intel client virtualization, combines many of the advantages of both: centralized management, centralized or local storage options, and a rich user experience regardless of the device being used.
Introducing Intel client virtualization
To provide MSJC with a secure, flexible and easily managed IT environment, Nth Generation employed hardware-assisted Intel VT combined with software-based virtualization solutions. The Intel client virtualization computing framework offers a new choice in providing the overall solution.
Intel client virtualization provides users with device-independent mobility, so that they can access “their” virtual device from a home-based desktop, remotely via notebook, or wherever they need to be productive. Intel client virtualization provides more than simple network access: the entire range of the user’s computing needs – from the operating system to the software program to the educational content – can exist remotely on the college’s centralized servers and be pushed out as a “virtual computer.” Need Quickbooks to complete your finance class assignment? Intel client virtualization essentially creates a virtual computer containing that program that can be accessed through whatever Internet-enabled device you’re using to log onto the system.
Besides OS and application streaming, Intel client virtualization solutions ease the job of IT management by centralizing most operations such as updating and security monitoring. Data can be protected through central storage and backup, roaming profiles, and client-side data encryption. The result for students: a rich and responsive user experience that helps the college minimize its need for a data center build-out.
One critical attribute of Intel client virtualization computing is its support for pervasive mobility, as students across the service area depend on the ability to access the classroom without the commute. Using any major Web browser, Mt. San Jacinto College students log into their personal URL. The system presents them with one or multiple VMs that they can log into, based on their active directory. Students using Quickbooks or Visio Studio, for example, can then log in and pull down the virtual system to access that software suite – all centrally managed.
A campus without borders
Where the value of MSJC’s new system has really taken hold, and what occupies much of its current focus, is distance education. The college pushes out virtual machines to the Internet so students can log in from desktops and notebooks remotely from across California, the U.S., and even internationally via a Web portal for online tutorials and real-time instruction. Faculty and staff also access the system, primarily for testing and communication with students. However, the greatest use of Intel client virtualization is for student learning.
This approach to virtualization has a democratizing influence that provides less privileged students with access to learning tools they might not otherwise be able to afford. “Many of our students don’t have the hardware at home that allows them to run the software that’s required for classes, or they don’t have the financial resources to purchase the software, so we provide a platform, the software configuration and the profile they need for a particular subject,” said Uckert.“They log in, do their homework and run their labs in this virtualized environment as if they were in the classroom.” With software managed and pushed out centrally, the college can provide potentially costly programs for computer-aided design, finance, office technology, etc., for a fraction of the cost to its students.
Some assembly required
Implementing a highly complex, mission-critical system with countless components is not without its challenges: everything from the Web servers to the storage area network and backup systems required patience and expertise … and that’s where Nth Generation delivered its greatest value in overcoming those challenges.
In addition to the expected hurdles, MSJC and Nth Generation also overcame unforeseen surprises, such as when the virtualization platform that supposedly supported customization of Windows Vista virtual machines actually did not. Nth Generation devised a workaround that now enables the system to support Vista, a common OS among students, and ultimately Windows 7.
Uckert concedes that MSJC’s current hardware profile is less than ideal. Solution provider Nth Generation recommended migrating to a blade server architecture, but the college decided to stick with its single server system. As its servers approach their end-of-life, MSJC re-purposes them to other departments – something the school felt might be less practical with blades.
Security is also a big consideration for the college’s IT staff. “One of our long-term goals is to provide single sign-on for students” said Uckert. “Then we’d like to marry that with virtual machines so that their login to access our application called Blackboard immediately makes the virtual machines available. Our biggest concern within that framework is security.”
Students have widely embraced the new system, but the learning curve has not necessarily been seamless. “For the average non-technical user, conceptualizing what a virtual machine is and what they’re accessing can be challenging,” said Uckert. To address this issue, the college created detailed online instructions and faculty-produced videos to help familiarize students with the process of logging in over the Web and accessing the URL.
MSJC’s faculty has also been won over by the Intel client virtualization environment and its applicability to specific fields of learning. However, the technology is not practical for all course offerings at MSJC, at least not yet. “For instance, the Visio Studio instructors have been hesitant,” said Uckert. “Will the program work in a virtual environment? Our multimedia instructors have chosen not to use it at the moment because video rendering isn’t too smooth yet when it runs over the system.”
What’s your virtualization vision?
The virtualization of learning at Mt. San Jacinto College continues to evolve, as the school works with Nth Generation to further enhance its open architecture that supports virtually any client. John Randall anticipates a point where MSJC may introduce hypervisor technology to manage multiple operating systems on a single hardware host. By improving its ability to reach more students, expanding the curriculum available to remote clients, the college fulfills its mission of providing “accessible, innovative, comprehensive and quality educational programs and services to diverse, dynamic and growing communities both within and beyond traditional geographic boundaries.”
MSJC’s results and rewards – an ever-growing capability in distance education, greater ease of management and security, and continued relevance in the way today’s students work and learn – can be your institution’s as well. Learn how an Intel solutions provider like Nth Generation can help make Intel Virtualization technology work for you.
Contact Nth Generation by phone at 800-548-1883 or e-mail at E-Team@nth.com to learn how client virtualization can help your organization today!