Archive for January, 2011

Death of the Computer Lab?

Question: What are the most popular buzzwords in IT?

Answer: Last year, the “cloud”. This year (so far), “VCL” and “VDI”. As in, if you can build a virtual computing lab (VCL) using virtual desktop infrastructire (VDI), you can shut down at least some of your computing labs and save money as a result.


Everything we know about computing labs indicates that lab usage has *increased*, even as the number of student-owned computers/laptops has risen to near universal levels. Let me rephrase that. Other options exist, but usage has increased. And yet we believe that the introduction of another option (ie, VCL/VDI) will now decrease usage/need?

Ummm….remember when computers and email were supposed to help us move to the “paperless” office? Yeah, I’m getting more paper than *ever* these days, too.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of VDI. We have a virtualization strategy at Menlo that extends far beyond the lab (more on that later), and are very excited about VDI’s potential — as a change agent for how we deploy desktops across the institution, and as an extension of the physical lab. But not as a replacement for it.

Here’s how I see it…

Today we have specialized labs that each run a different set of software. So to teach a Photoshop class, you have to reserve lab #1, and to teach an accounting class with Quickbooks or another accounting application, you have to reserve lab #2.

A VCL/VDI solution changes this, because you can virtualize your Photoshop desktop or accounting desktop, and then allow access to that desktop from any lab, or really, any location. This enables your faculty to reserve any lab they want, but unless you have dozens of underutilized labs, doesn’t change the fact that faculty will still want to teach their classes using the software, which generally means, in a lab somewhere.

And keeping in mind that virtually everything we do is computer dependent these days, and more and more disciplines/professions are using specialized software, the instructional usage of labs is only bound to increase. In fact, we built another instructional computing lab at Menlo last summer, and it’s already nearing max capacity (and usage in our other labs has not decreased).

Does that mean you shouldn’t explore VCL/VDI? No!!

In my view, there are a good number of benefits that VDI can provide your constituents, and your staff. Better access to software, increased life of hardware (you can run a virtual desktop on the equipment in your physical labs, too, not just in the ether), easier image/desktop management, greater flexibility, simplified support, and so on. Presumably lower costs too.

So is there a strong case for virtualizing your desktops? I believe so, yes. But as for those reports about the death of the computer lab as a result? Ehhhh, not so much.

My Elevator Pitch

When I was in sales and marketing, oh so many years ago, we spent hours and days, months even, perfecting the perfect 30-second “elevator” pitch. You know, the one that you use when someone asks you “so what do you do?” and you have a 30-second elevator ride to tell them? It usually goes something like…”I’m a [job title] for [company], the global leader in [some industry jargon]”.

In education it may be called something different, but we still have elevator pitches, generally speaking — some key points and messaging that’s important to get across when talking to a prospective student, faculty member, or donor.

What’s important about the elevator pitch is the description of who you work for, not really what you do for them. Usually. This past weekend, however, I realized that an elevator pitch might be in order for what I actually do, too.

You see, I went to a family event and saw distant relatives — the kind you only run into once every 5 to 10 years or so. The conversation that ensued went something like this:

Them: “It’s great to see you, how have you been? And what are you doing these days?”

Me: “I’m the CIO at Menlo College; been there about  a year and a half.”

Them: “Menlo is a great school, congratulations! So….what’s a CIO?”

Me: “Chief information officer.”

Them: [looking a little glassy-eyed] “Information officer? So you handle information requests for the college? Or PR? Or…?”

Me: “Um, no…actually I manage the college’s technology. Like servers, and network, and computers…things like that.”

Them: [even more glass-eyed, but feeling compelled to ask the obligatory follow-up question] “Wow, sounds exciting! So what are you working on these days?”

And here’s where I need that elevator pitch. The truth is we’re working on bringing up a learning management system, moving some of our servers to the cloud, and rolling out virtual desktops (VDI). Really exciting stuff! But nearly *everyone* I know gets more than a little glassy-eyed when we start talking cloud computing or VDI. It’s conceptual stuff, with no clear definitions — even within the profession.

So explaining it to a non-techie…fugetaboutit. Except, of course, I can’t. I won’t. I think this stuff is waaaay too cool to *not* explain. 🙂

Lesson for the Day

One of my staff emailed the team today with the following lesson of the day:

“It is impossible to juggle if the left hand and the right hand do not communicate.”

Another team member responded with the following:

“Try reinstalling the driver for the left hand. We can virtualize the right hand, then add both hands into a ‘hand pool’. That way the ball can land in whichever hand is available when it starts to fall.”

Awesome. 🙂

@rclemmons on Twitter

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