The Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik, USEK) in Lebanon is one of the most technologically advanced universities in the Middle-East. It has over 8,000 students and 900 faculty members spread over four campuses and fifteen faculties or institutes. USEK is a frequent early adopter of technology and has a history of using IT to provide the best facilities for its students. It was the first university in the region to deploy leading collaboration and business automation software and it has won a number of national and regional awards for its use of technology. The university has its own software development team which has created more than 70 applications. USEK first adopted virtualisation in 2008. As Director of IT Ziad Eid puts it, "My job is to look for strategic technologies that align with USEK's business needs and be the first to deploy them."
Students at USEK typically used a virtual desktop solution running Citrix XenDesktop® on thin client hardware. In the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts however, because students required resource-hungry graphics applications like AutoCad, 3ds Max and Maya, the university provided high-performance workstations. Each workstation required 32GB of RAM and dedicated VGA to be capable of carrying out the three-dimensional graphical rendering and other processor-intensive tasks that the subject required.
Elsewhere in the university, the success of the virtual desktop had led USEK to move to a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. Moving the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts away from its workstations would give those students all the benefits of mobility that their peers in other faculties enjoyed. It would save the university considerable sums in electricity and IT management costs. Mr Eid was also concerned about emission levels from using so many powerful workstations within the confines of a classroom. He explains, "We wanted to provide the very best for our students, but we didn't want to force them to buy expensive, high-performance PCs to run their applications."
Mr Eid and his colleagues were certain that a BYOD policy was the best solution for the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts. He explains, "The faculty needed to provide courses anywhere, not just in specific classrooms. BYOD felt like the right solution, so we thought 'Let's be leading and provide everything for the student on a cheap $100 tablet.'"
Mr Eid consulted Citrix Silver Solution Adviser WorldNet who built an innovative solution using Citrix XenDesktop® in combination with the very latest hardware from HP and NVIDIA. To effectively run the faculty's graphics applications, the servers had to provide at least 16GB of RAM and 1-2GB of dedicated VGA per user. "WorldNet did a very professional job, coordinating every day with Citrix and the other partners," explains Mr Eid. The team ran a successful proof of concept over the summer break so that the solution was live in time for the new semester.
"The solution is amazing," says Mr Eid. "I didn't believe you could provide 'remote VGA' in this way." Feedback from students has also been very positive. "They don't have to worry about what device they use, its memory or CPU," he explains. Students can access their work and applications wherever they are: on campus, at home, even overseas. Teachers are happy too, because they have freedom to move their teaching around the campus. They also have less time wasted at the start of lessons dealing with technical issues.
Instead of 30 high-end workstations each using 500W of power, an architecture class now runs from a single server. The university also benefits from lower air-conditioning costs and reduced emissions.
IT management is much easier now. USEK previously required a team dedicated to management of the architecture workstations. Today, they manage a single desktop image from a few servers. And, as Mr Eid explains, "Security is most important, but now we don't need to worry about virus attacks coming from PCs." Students' work is saved securely and students and faculty members are also safe from using illegal, pirated software. The virtual desktop provides over 170 applications to users.
The high performance mobile workspace has been so successful that teachers in remote campuses are re-scheduling their classes to take advantage of the solution. There is also demand from other faculties such as Engineering who require high performance graphics. Mr Eid and his team will be adding more servers and extending the solution to other faculties in the near future. "We can now run classrooms anywhere," he says. "We could not do that without Citrix technology."
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