The University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) – one of the youngest and largest universities in Germany – is located in the heart of the Ruhr metropolitan region. With the introduction of virtualized systems with VMware technology at the Competence Clusters Virtual Systems (CViS) as well as the Centre for Information and Media Services (ZIM) in 2012, students, scientists and employees at the UDE can be supported flexibly as well as location and time-independently in many areas. This strategic decision with foresight has now paid off. When universities had to move to largely presence-free education due to the COVID-19 outbreak, lots of employees and students were immediately able to work from home without any problems.
VMware technology not only provides Windows and Linux desktop systems, but also special systems for scientific computing. “During the pandemic our investment in a VDI environment has really proved its value. It is a great advantage that we were well prepared with our VDI environment,” says André Kreft, CIO and Managing Director Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Biology.
The versatility of virtualization offers the UDE new opportunities. The infrastructure has made it possible to set up a GDPR-compliant, in-house videoconferencing system (BigBlueButton) for the entire university based on Open Source. The virtual environment has greatly simplified the development of the system – and is a pillar of digital teaching for 42,000 students at the UDE. And for more social distancing at the university, control PCs for microscopes and measuring equipment in the research laboratories, for example, can be accessed from at home thanks to the virtual desktop environment, which reduces the presence of researchers on site.
The UDE is regarded nationwide as a pioneer of educational equity at universities – which means that the financial capability of students to purchase of IT equipment must not play a role in educational success. Before the pandemic, many students made intensive use of the computer pools at the university, but this is now no longer possible. An alternative is a rental service: in this case legacy systems are used, such as outdated iMacs from 2005 which can be converted into a VDI client using Linux-based software. In this way, even systems that are obsolete can continue to be used sustainably allowing students to access all relevant data and software from their home office. “The availability of private hardware must not be allowed to determine educational opportunities, because educational equity is an important maxim of our society. And the aspect of sustainability is also taken into consideration, since outdated hardware is updated to provide important services,” André Kreft continues. “Thanks to the virtualized systems, our students can continue their studies under safe conditions at home – and do not endanger their health or their education”.
“Some events cannot be foreseen – and COVID-19 is one such event. Fortunately, the University of Duisburg-Essen has been using virtual systems based on VMware technology in many areas since 2008. After the universities had to move to largely presence-free education, lots of employees and students were able to switch to working from home without any problems. This virtual platform was also instrumental in the development of our new Open Source video conferencing system BigBlueButton, facilitating real-time seminars with staff and students. To improve educational equity, students can also borrow devices from us and access the university network via the VDI environment. Thanks to VMware, our students can continue their studies under safe conditions at home, without compromising their health or their education”.
André Kreft, CIO and Managing Director Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Biology