Virtualization and Digital Workspaces Helps University of Arkansas Succeed

Apr 10, 2018
Vernon Apperson


Vernon is a technology writer for VMware, specializing in customer storytelling.

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From eight scholars in 1872, the University of Arkansas has grown to more than 27,000 students and over 4,500 faculty and staff. That growth spiked over the past seven years when the university added more than 10,000 students and its reputation for a great education at low cost began to attract more students from outside the state of Arkansas. The university’s IT department saw that it needed to provide more services and support without a commensurate budget increase.

“Our stated goal for our support services is ‘anytime, anywhere, any device,’” said Stephen Herzig, director of enterprise systems at the University of Arkansas. “Many of our students are nontraditional. They may live off-campus or may be juggling family and work. It’s really important to us that students have access to all the applications they need, wherever they are, or on whatever device they have.”

Better App Access and Mobility Level the Playing Field

Virtualization turned out to be the right path for this university to lower IT costs and provide simpler, mobile access to apps and data. “There’s a philosophy here that individuals have applications and data, and they want access to their data in the applications, to manipulate the data,” said Jon Kelley, the university’s associate director of enterprise innovation. “VMware had that vision laid out, and we saw it the same way. That’s the way we and this university community want to work.”

The University of Arkansas is piloting components of VMware Secure Digital Backpack to help students access the applications they need from their mobile devices.

The University is also using VMware Workspace ONE to securely deliver applications to student devices. After a successful trial run of 1,000 students in August 2017, more than 4,000 students and faculty are now using Workspace ONE with plans to extend access to the whole university community. Students can use applications ranging from statistical software to photography tools, all easily accessible through single sign-on from any device. Faculty can take advantage of the cross-platform capabilities of Workspace ONE to manage coursework on any device independent of the operating system, even when using apps that require a specific OS. This will be particularly valuable for faculty who use a Mac but must use PC only administrative applications.

“We’re here to provide an exceptional learning experience for students, opportunities for the faculty, and to allow IT resources across campus to focus more on high impact activities. VMware solutions have given our community tools to help them be more successful.” Stephen Herzig, Director of Enterprise Systems, University of Arkansas

One Platform, Any Device, Securely

The university uses VMware Horizon and VMware App Volumes as its platform for virtual desktops and applications. “We are able to use the Blast Extreme protocol in Horizon. This was really important for us to deliver to mobile devices, laptops, and thin clients,” said Kelley. “It allows a lot of flexibility. We can deliver to anything with a browser, even deliver individual applications to an endpoint.”

VMware NSX for Horizon is being deployed for the purpose of securing the university’s virtual desktops with granular security policies that follow individual desktops. Kelley noted that he’s looking beyond NSX micro-segmentation to larger uses such as cloud connectivity and research computing. “We see an opportunity to bridge some of our research computing platform with other computer platforms, to be able to share resources. NSX may be a good conduit for that, using VXLAN tunnels and endpoints.”

Hardware and Software Accelerations for Better App Experiences

The university’s Horizon implementation uses virtual graphics processing units (GPUs) from NVIDIA. Said Kelley, “Every desktop experience we deliver is GPU accelerated, from engineering software to Windows 10. In Windows 10, we prefer the way the graphics and the text render with GPU acceleration, as well as how videos play better.”

The Intel Xeon-based Dell PowerEdge R730 and R630 servers are the main components of the university’s virtualization implementation.  They employ Intel® AES New Instructions (AES NI) chipsets.  The university also uses Intel storage for its VMware vSAN implementation. Kelley added that the university “benefits from Intel’s efforts with DPDK (Data Plane Development Kit) and the AES-NI instruction set for our software-defined network and storage, from a speed and encryption perspective.”

Toward a More Mobile Future

Mobile access to applications and services is important to students. The university is deploying VMware Workspace ONE powered by AirWatch, extending mobile device management capabilities to Windows 10 computers.

Stay tuned for updates on VMware Horizon by subscribing to our blog, and following us on Twitter and Facebook.

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