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At Loughborough University, a roll-out of virtual desktops to support staff has proved so successful that the technology has been extended to research and teaching staff, too.
The completion of the 400-seat VDI [virtual desktop integration] project was announced this week by Logicalis, the systems integration firm that has been working closely with Loughborough University on the institution’s IT strategy for a number of years, looking to find new opportunities for flexibility, capacity and efficiency.
Initially, it was thought that virtual desktops might be a good fit for support staff in areas such as the finance and human resources departments - or ‘corporate users’, as the University terms them. “It was easier for us to determine the requirements of this group and generally their needs tend to be less technically demanding,” explains Dr Phil Richards, director of IT at Loughborough University.
However, the benefits achieved in this first phase of the project were so convincing that Richards decided to take the rollout further. These benefits, he says, included “total cost of ownership and efficiency within the IT team, modest carbon savings, and the provision of an alternative IT service for corporate users.
It made perfect sense to include university faculty, too. After all, Richards points out, lecturers and researchers from the University travel frequently in order to attend conferences and collaborate as part of working groups around the world.
With VDI access, he says, they can easily log into administrative applications used by the University in order to log their expenses and access shared teaching resources with students when they’re away. What’s more, they can do so using their personally owned smartphones and tablet computers, under the University’s ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) scheme.
The VDI infrastructure is based on technology from VMware and is expected to reduce the overhead associated with the maintenance of physical desktops at the University’s 438-acre campus. Overall, says Richards, Loughborough University is saving the equivalent, in man-hours, of one or two full-time members of IT staff. “This frees my team to focus on more productive duties,” he says.
It’s not the first time Loughborough University has used virtualisation and cloud technology for business benefit. Two years ago, IP EXPO Online reported how the two organisations had created a hybrid cloud environment that enabled University staff to shift IT workloads between its Leicestershire-based campus and a Logicalis data centre around 120 miles away in Slough.
This hybrid cloud infrastructure has since delivered savings for the University that amount to millions of pounds and hundreds of tonnes of carbon - but Richards will shortly be turning over the University’s IT strategy to a successor. He’s off to work at JISC, the UK-based charity that advises the education sector on digital technologies, as its new chief innovation officer. Richards takes up his new post in November.