Virtual Computing Lab

students on computers small

The days of students labouring in campus computer labs will soon be over.

Cybera and the University of Alberta teamed up to develop a Virtual Computing Lab that gives students access to their class software from any internet-enabled device. With the software running in the cloud, students are no longer restricted to on-campus computer labs. They can book a time slot in the Virtual Computing Lab that fits with their schedule, and work from their own personal computer or tablet.

It’s a virtual solution with advantages that just keep adding up:

  • Educators can make more efficient use of software licenses.
  • Reduced demand for computer labs on campus means reduced hardware, software, energy and maintenance costs.
  • Students can access the Virtual Computing Lab from any device that has access to the internet.

The Virtual Computing Lab has been used by the Universities of Alberta and Lethbridge for courses in education, engineering, statistics, and economics.

“We tested the Virtual Computer Lab on a graduate economics class in 2011 that had relied on a lab with nine computers in it. After the first course was over, the professor said we could do away with most of the computers. By the end of the second term, with three courses running, he said we could get rid of them all.

“It was easy for the students to learn and use. And students say they love not having to come to campus on a snowy, miserable day to use the computers.”

Donna Gorday
Director, Client Services, Academic Information and Communication Technologies
University of Alberta

Timeline

Cybera began the pilot project in the fall of 2011 and operated the VCL service until the 2014 spring semester, when it was transitioned to be managed by the University of Alberta.

Results

# virtual machines created: 6,500
# hours of reservations made: 15,000
# students served: 1,800
# classes that participated: 43
# conference presentations: 3

Pilot Conclusion

The pilot project allowed Cybera to trial the effectiveness of Virtual Computing Labs as a shared service for post-secondary institutions in Alberta, and evaluate the technology. Following its successful implementation, the University of Alberta decided to continue running the service in-house for its staff and students, with Cybera transferring operations and best-practice tips to the university.

The University’s VCL environment will be hosted in another shared service provided by Cybera — the Rapid Access Cloud. This tool provides the underlying infrastructure for researchers and innovators in need of cloud resources for development.

Lasting Impacts

The Virtual Computing Lab continues to run and expand its services to University of Alberta students and instructors. Cybera also contributed to the further development of the global VCL project by developing code for network address translation and operating the service on an OpenStack cloud. This will benefit other national and international users of the open source VCL project.