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Indiana University's 'Personal Clouds' Address Massive Virtualization Challenges

Citrix selected over VMware for university's 18-month IUAnyWare project to convert its 100,000 end users at eight campuses to using virtualized applications with aim of saving money and delivering better services.
Some end-user virtualization attempts have foundered on the cost of storage and central servers after the expense of delivering a custom desktop to every user was calculated. Indiana U. has gotten around this obstacle by reserving such desktops to those who really need them. About 15% of end users fall into the customized category, Workman estimates, and they are served by Citrix XenDesktop, with its ability to store individual components in the data center and rebuild custom desktops on demand.

Both forms of virtualization run in the university data center, with interactions communicated over the network and the results for the user's display projected onto an end-user desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Any device that can run Citrix's Receiver client can become a virtual desktop. That includes x86 desktops and laptops, Apple Macintoshes, Apple iPads and iPhones, and several smartphone brands.

Although the project is just getting underway, Workman said it will swiftly move to end users on campus. "We negotiated the deal (with Citrix) last February. Over the last 11 weeks, we put the architecture together. We'll have full deployment by the fall of 2012," Workman said, with an ability to deal with 100,000 end users. System-wide, the University of Indiana has 107,000 students.

One uncounted cost savings is in end-user hardware. In the past, the university provided labs and other measures when coursework included computing. But 99% of today's students bring their own computing device to campus, and the school's approach to end-user virtualization is meant to address that.

Workman doesn't highlight lower equipment costs so much as IT labor savings in the virtualization project. "Our biggest savings will be in software licenses" as it negotiates multi-user licenses instead of a volume purchase. In addition, "All the application maintenance, patches, and upgrades can be done on servers in the data center" instead patches or upgrades needing to be propagated to thousands of end-user machines, she said.

The result is IT staffers "being reallocated to a higher purpose," such as building the applications needed at the university or making more resources available in the virtualized pool of applications. The university hasn't calculated its return on investment yet, Workman says, but "that will be a very large savings."

The bulk of IU's end-user services that are being handled by XenApp represent the updated version of Citrix's former Presentation Manager, the deployment of virtualized Windows' application services from a central server. Citrix has added FlexCast, which senses what device the presentation is being sent to and chooses an appropriate protocol, and the Receiver client, which can be engineered for and placed on distinct devices, while still running the same virtual desktop.

Several universities are turning to an IT revamp as a way of offering greater appeal to existing and prospective end users. A planned, 2009-2010 university-wide system to provide more end-user services was at the heart of a failed enterprise resource planning implementation at Montclair State in Montclair, N.J. The university is involved in a lawsuit with Oracle over the incomplete, $15.75 million project.

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