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University virtualizes Navy training, BYOD access

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BYOD navyWhen NC State University, in Raleigh, North Carolina, was looking for a way to train Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (NROTC) students on how to navigate ships and provide access to various library resources on multiple devices, it turned to virtualization.

Virtual desktops bring the type of secure connections that satisfy the security requirements of the Navy and enable engineers to access 3-D design software on multiple devices. Virtualization in a distributed computing environment lets universities such as NC State focus on centralized control, reduce operational costs and gain savings in agility, said Robert Arnold, a Frost & Sullivan analyst.

“It should enable them to remove endpoints from their list of headaches and instead focus more on infrastructure, server-side applications and control,” Arnold said in an email.

Virtualization and 3-D ship navigation

By using VMware’s Horizon View platform, NROTC students at NC State can re-create the layout of a ship’s bridge in a virtualized application called the Mariner Skills Simulator (MSS). The Horizon View platform allows NROTC students to simulate communication on various stations of a ship’s bridge in real time using multiple virtual desktops. Students learn how to place ship items such as the helm and munitions in the right place, said Maurice York, former head of IT for the North Carolina State University Libraries.

“We want our midshipmen to be prepared to immediately function in the shipboard environment once they receive their commission,” said Lt. Brian Lin, a naval science instructor in the NROTC unit at NC State. “This valuable training will help meet that goal.”

Virtual desktops allow a dozen machines in the school’s Creativity Studio facility to communicate in a close networking environment, noted York. “Any one of those machines can become any different station on the bridge at any given time,” York said in a VMware video.

The university can meet the security criteria of the Navy by taking the computing cluster down after each session. Virtual desktop stations are then used for other projects, including simulating a crime lab or trading room floor.

“What that was able to do was give absolute security to the Navy,” said York. “As soon as that simulator is not in use by them, we take that whole pool down.”

NC State runs the Horizon View virtual desktops on Dell PowerEdge R720 servers that incorporate two Nvidia Grid K2 cards. To run the Creativity Studio on multiple virtual desktops, the university required a high-capability, graphics-rich computing environment, according to York.

“For our students who are mainly engineering-type students, we have a GPU-enabled cluster,” said Bob Bagby, systems specialist for NC State University Libraries, in the video.

Virtual desktops support BYOD environments

In addition to aiding NROTC students, NC State turned to Horizon View to allow access to university applications on campus or off.

“Bring your own (BYO) anything is what we advocate,” Dr. Marc Hoit, vice chancellor for IT and CIO at NC State, said in a case study.

Students and faculty need to connect three to three and a half devices to the university’s network. On mobile devices using virtual desktops, the university is looking to provide identity management, access management, flexibility and provisioning of applications on demand, said Hoit.

“Client virtualization solutions allows students to run their lab workloads, even high-end graphics applications, on nearly any device,” Brett Waldman, an IDC analyst, said in an email. Without client virtualization, IT departments such as those at NC State would be unlikely to have the budget to deliver and support applications on any device, he added.

Accessing the virtual desktops in the cloud enables students to access university resources on laptops, smartphones and tablets. The students require access to storage, services and project-management applications, said York.

Virtual desktops are an alternative to specialized computer labs, which have workstations running graphic-intensive software, noted Chris Mann, an undergraduate student at NC State majoring in mechanical engineering.

Mann uses SolidWorks 3-D CAD design software as part of his coursework.

“When I use SolidWorks on a virtual desktop, it’s been pretty much seamless,” Mann said. “I don’t have any trouble with speed or rendering anything for that matter.”

A less-powerful laptop or even a mobile phone can run SolidWorks on a virtual desktop, he noted.

Other graphics-intensive applications used by NC State students include AutoCAD and Autodesk. The VDI environment supports high-performance requirements of graphics applications used by students in design, engineering, humanities and meteorology, York noted.

“What we’re really trying to do is lift this entire computing experience, this entire rich technology environment up into the cloud and deliver it wherever we need to for the people that use this facility,” said York.

With desktop virtualization, NC State saves students money in parking passes and gasoline by allowing them to access essential applications remotely.

 

Brian T. Horowitz

Brian T. Horowitz

Brian T. Horowitz has been a technology journalist since 1996 and has written for numerous publications, including Computer Shopper, CruxialCIO, eWEEK, Fast Company, FOXNews.com, Men’s Fitness, NYSE magazine, ScientificAmerican.com and USA Weekend. He holds a B.A. from Hofstra University and is based in New York.

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