Understanding the TCO for On-Campus Computer Labs

The role of IT is a complex one and often involves overseeing many different parts of an institution’s operations, including developing a campus computing strategy. While determining which technology solution is a good fit seems relatively simple, the complexity of the task soon reveals itself once the sheer number of approaches and solutions available becomes apparent.

One solution that has been a mainstay in the higher education ecosystem for decades is the physical computer lab. Throughout this blog, we’ll examine the obvious and not-so-obvious costs of computer lab ownership and demonstrate how to accurately calculate the TCO of physical computer labs using a simple formula. 

Initial Investment

Most campus computing solutions start with an up-front investment. For some solutions this is hardware, for others, it’s software or licensing, and sometimes it’s all three.

For campus labs, there is the physical hardware purchase of computers, monitors, keyboards, and mice (we’ll assume furniture and networking equipment is already in place). Depending on the intended use of the machines, there may be a range of costs based on the individual specifications required. Talking with schools across the country, we’ve determined the average package per computer will cost $1,500.00.

On the surface, one could assume the investment figure would then come down to a simple formula of cost multiplied by the number of machines needed. However, there’s a lot more to consider:

  • Cost and timing of a hardware refresh cycle: New technologies roll out at a rapid rate, making the shelf life of a computer extremely short. Determine how often and at what percentage your institution will replace (refresh) the computers found across campus. The majority of schools typically aim for 20%-25% of their fleet every year. This can represent a sizable line item in any IT’s budget.
  • Computer management costs: Are you using a tool from Microsoft, such as Intune, where your existing campus agreement already entitles you to licenses? Or are you investing in an alternative product such as KACE, where an additional investment of about $2.50 per device will be needed?
  • Personnel costs: Does your IT department have the headcount required to take on the management tasks associated with offering physical computer labs across campus?

The cost of offering and maintaining physical computer labs goes far beyond just the initial purchase of the computers, however. Let’s take a look at the obvious and not-so-obvious costs that follow the initial investment phase.

Ongoing Costs

After the initial investment has been made, IT needs to weigh the ongoing costs of updating and maintaining the lab spaces, and as noted before, refreshing the associated hardware on a regular basis. What licensing costs need to be renewed each year? Are there any certification courses and exams your IT staff will need to complete annually? What about the average break/fix budget for the physical hardware assets?

Soft Costs

One of the most frequent mistakes IT leaders make when considering a new solution is underestimating the cost of human capital to manage and maintain the new solution. However, this is easy to incorporate and should be part of any TCO calculation.

For the solution of physical computer labs, there are three primary areas of human cost to review and estimate: 

  1. The time it takes to create the gold image that will be used to clone the rest of the computers across campus. 
  2. The time and effort required to swap hardware components during the annual refresh cycle. 
  3. The time needed to diagnose and effect repairs of failed equipment. Each of these activities will require one or more staff members to complete, and each staff member has an associated cost in salary plus benefits.

Virtual Computer Lab ROI Calculator

Apporto’s virtual computer labs maximize learning and optimize efficiencies at 50-70% less than the cost of traditional VDI solutions. See for yourself why the Navy and top universities like UCLA and Emory have already discovered by using our Virtual Computer Lab ROI Calculator.
ROI, Return on investment, Business and financial concept.

Hidden Costs

Thankfully, there aren’t a lot of hidden costs associated with computer lab implementations, but there is one that should be weighed: student dissatisfaction affecting retention.

Picture this: two high school friends graduate and head off to different schools to complete their undergraduate degrees. When back at home for a holiday, they share experiences and compare notes about the respective schools they’re attending. The first notes how they spend a lot of time walking around campus going from building to building in search of the correct computer lab to do homework and course assignments.

The second freshman is having a vastly different experience because their campus offers virtual labs in the cloud, and in some cases, direct access from BYOD laptops. They can work from the dorm, student lounge, and even the local coffee shop.

It’s possible that after hearing how easy his friend’s school makes learning on the go, the first student may feel dissatisfied with his circumstances and might even consider transferring. Granted it’s a hard metric to quantify, but it could happen and could negatively impact the success of your campus.

TCO Example

Now that you know what to consider when evaluating the cost of offering physical computer labs across campus, let’s crunch some numbers. 

We invite all readers to use this example and formulas to create their own calculations around the operation (or installation) of a computer lab solution on your campus. For our example, we’re assuming 500 computers across campus are already in place, and our school will do an annual refresh of 25%.

Variable
Example Cost
Cost per computer/computer package
$1500.00
Number of computers (refresh)
125
Break/fix budget
$30,000.00
Staff salary
$45,000
Staff benefits cost
25% of Salary
Number of FTE
2
Time spent on gold images
4 weeks each
Time spent on deployment
1 week each
Time spend on break/fix (annual average)
1 week each
Lab management software licensing
$0 (included with Microsoft agreement)

Hardware Calculation:

Computer cost x count of computers + break/fit budget

$1500.00 x 125 = $187,000.00 + $30,000.00 = $217,000.00

Staff Cost Calculation:

Salary + Benefits / 2000 for hourly rate

$45,000.00 + $11,250.00 / 2000 = $28.00/hour

Hourly rate x number of staff x total time

$28.00 x 2 x 222 hours = $12,432.00

Annual Total = $229,432.00

Based on the above example, the cost of maintaining physical computer labs across campus will have a TCO of well over $200,000.00 annually. This does not factor in the potential loss of students due to their dissatisfaction with being restricted to certain lab spaces to use specific academic software.

Why Consider Apporto

Purpose-built for higher ed, Apporto’s virtual computer labs are different. We offer colleges and universities a variety of purpose-built features, anywhere anytime access, and true digital equity, using our clientless connection via popular web browsers.

Our affordable and low-cost pricing model makes determining TCO a breeze. Our calculation couldn’t be simpler: Number of concurrent users x size (performance profile). For example, 100 user seats would cost $80,000.00 on average

In addition, Apporto offers a fully managed service that takes care of all the infrastructure, backup and recovery, monitoring, and maintenance so that your IT staff can concentrate on the strategic tasks and projects that can continue to elevate the rankings of your campus.

Hardware
Break/Fix
Management
Soft Costs
Hidden Costs
Campus Labs
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Apporto
No
No
No
Minimal
No

Virtual Computer Labs: 2-year Impact Assessment Conducted by IIT

The Office of Technology Services at The Illinois Institute of Technology has completed a two-year assessment of its transformation from physical infrastructure to Apporto’s virtual computer lab.​ Read their findings here.
Illinois Institute of Technology

Top 4 Cybersecurity Tips for Remote Workers

According to Cisco’s 2021 Cybersecurity Threat Trends report, almost 90% of data breaches occur due to phishing[1]. Ironically, last month, Cisco itself experienced a data breach caused by, in part, phishing.  

Attackers used a Cisco employee’s compromised credentials to gain access to the company’s VPN through a series of “sophisticated voice phishing attacks” and MFA push acceptance. This incident brings to light just how easy it is for cyber criminals to get an easy foothold into company networks through phishing. 

When it comes to cyber attacks, employees remain the #1 vulnerability for businesses. With the continued popularity of remote work, company networks are now employee’s home networks and personal devices are potential entry points for cyber criminals. 

Here are 4 cybersecurity tips you can start implementing today to help remote workers navigate this vast and complicated threat landscape.  

  1. Ongoing education: Ransomware attacks succeed due to poor user education and bad practices. Employees should know why they need to practice important security measures and how to do so. Host ongoing training sessions so that they can easily identify common ransomware tactics like phishing emails.
  1. Enhanced verification and identity authentication: Implement strong device verification by enforcing stricter controls around device status to limit or block enrollment and access from unmanaged or unknown devices. Multifactor authentication (MFA) adds another layer of protection by requiring users to present two or more identifying credentials in addition to a username to gain access to applications.   
  1. Network segmentation is another important security control that organizations should employ. Network segmentation divides a computer network into smaller parts. By controlling how traffic flows among the parts, organizations can limit how far a cyber attack can spread. For example, segmentation keeps a malware outbreak in one section from affecting systems in another section. 
  1. Zero Trust: For a long-term solution, organizations should implement a Zero Trust security architecture. Zero Trust is a security framework requiring all users, whether in or outside the organization’s network, to be authenticated, authorized, and continuously validated before being granted or keeping access to applications and data. 

Zero Trust Virtual Desktop White Paper

In this white paper, you will learn how Apporto helps companies achieve highly secure remote workplaces

Despite another record year of breaches including Solar Winds, Colonial Pipeline, and others, half of U.S. businesses still have not put a cybersecurity risk plan in place[2]. Following the recommendations above are great first steps to building a culture of security and employee awareness.    

How Apporto Can Help 

Defending against cyber attacks requires a tiered approach to security with a Zero Trust model at the heart of the methodology. Apporto’s virtual desktops are designed with Zero Trust as a core architectural principle.  

Contact us today to see how Apporto virtual desktops can help you achieve Zero Trust security.   

References 

 [1] Hamilton, J. (2022, April 14). 10 Cybersecurity Tips for Remote Workers. https://www.itgovernanceusa.com/blog/10-cybersecurity-tips-for-remote-workers 

[2] Brooks, C. (2022, June 3). Alarming Cyber Statistics For Mid-Year 2022 That You Need To Know. Forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chuckbrooks/2022/06/03/alarming-cyber-statistics-for-mid-year-2022-that-you-need-to-know/?sh=b4ef45d7864a 

How IT can Support Low-Income Higher Ed Student Success

The ability to access secure and engaging learning experiences anywhere, on any device, at any time, was a game-changer during COVID-19. Especially for millions of low-income higher education students who relied on the flexibility that remote learning provided to maintain their academic focus while also managing non-academic priorities.  

As the world emerges from the pandemic, advocates are encouraging colleges and universities that serve large numbers of low-income students to permanently adopt policies that were put in place to better support students during COVID.  

This blog will examine the role remote learning technologies play in supporting the unique needs of low-income students and how these solutions can help colleges and universities promote equity and inclusion.  

Supporting the Whole Student 

Before we take a look at the technologies that can support student success, it is beneficial to gain a better understanding of the students themselves and their specific needs.  

In the academic year of 2020/2021, around 30 percent of the 20.8 million students that enrolled in undergraduate programs in the United States were Pell Grant recipients, a proxy for low-income status. This is a slight decrease from the previous year when 31 percent of undergrads received a Pell Grant [1]. 

A recent study by the Education Data Institute offers additional insights on Pell Grant funding:  

  • 51% of Pell Grant funds go to students whose families earn less than $20,000 annually [2] 
  • 68% of Pell Grant funds go to public universities [3] 
  • 17% of Pell Grant funds go to private for-profit schools [4] 
  • 15% of Pell Grant funds go to private non-profit schools [5] 

With almost one-third of all higher education students in the United States considered “economically disadvantaged”, it is crucial that colleges and universities for­go a one-sized-fits-all approach to how they support student success and con­sid­er the full spec­trum of stu­dent needs, back­grounds, and iden­ti­ties.   

According to Shonda L. Goward, Director of the Student Center for Academic Achievement at California State University, East Bay, colleges and universities that serve large numbers of low-income students need to accommodate the varied lives of their students, and that requires truly understanding the demands and structures of their lives. “Decades of research show that low-income students often are also caring for younger siblings, elders, or their own children; working additional jobs to help their families and pay their way through school; and, in some cases, commuting long distances to campus,” [6] Goward says.   

By higher education institutions promoting a flexible learning ecosystem that considers a student’s entire life, just not their academic journey, Goward believes that millions of low-income students can graduate more quickly; lessening debt loads and making students eligible more quickly for higher-paying work [7].  

Goward has witnessed the positive impact remote learning has had on low-income students firsthand. When the state declared a pandemic in March 2020, California State University, East Bay, shifted quickly to offering more classes online. This included both classes offered in real-time and courses that allowed students to work at their own pace. The campus also shifted student services online, including advising and tutoring services.  

As a result, many of the student workers Goward supervised were able to maintain their academic focus, meet more regularly with their faculty, and work on campus, while still being able to take care of themselves and their families. “They did not have to commute to campus or search endlessly for parking. Access to support wherever, whenever, and however they could find it allowed students to do all they need to in their busy lives and still be successful students” [8]. 

Virtual Computer Labs: 2-year Impact Assessment Conducted by IIT

The Office of Technology Services at The Illinois Institute of Technology has completed a two-year assessment of its transformation from physical infrastructure to Apporto’s virtual computer lab.​ Read their findings here.
Illinois Institute of Technology

A new report fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion echoes Goward’s observations. “This research shows that achiev­ing equi­ty requires tar­get­ed approach­es geared to root caus­es and a thor­ough under­stand­ing of the diverse groups of stu­dents most in need of ser­vices,” said T’Pring West­brook, a senior research asso­ciate at the Casey Foun­da­tion. “The best way to get that under­stand­ing is by lis­ten­ing to stu­dents, engag­ing them through trust­ed rela­tion­ships, and pay­ing atten­tion to their experiences” [9].   

And what are students saying? In a 2021 Digital Learning Pulse survey, 73 percent of students polled “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed that they would like to take some fully online courses in the future. A slightly smaller number of students, 68 percent, indicated they would be interested in taking courses offering a combination of in-person and online instruction [10].  

Clearly, the on-demand nature of remote learning appeals to many students. However, it is an incredibly powerful resource for low-income students who often juggle additional responsibilities that can take precious time away from their studies.  

Equity Through Technology 

If higher education is to become more equitable and inclusive, learning institutions must do more to ensure that all students can benefit from new technologies. Technologies such as virtual computer labs and Zero Trust virtual desktops provide secure anytime anywhere access to critical academic resources via any internet-connected device.   

Although each virtual solution has particular benefits exclusive to them and their specific use cases, users of virtual computer labs, Zero Trust virtual desktops, and cybersecurity labs often cite the following benefits: 

Flexible and equitable access: Virtual technologies enable students to complete their work at the student’s convenience. Students can engage in an active learning environment anytime, anywhere because they are no longer bound to a certain schedule or location. Furthermore, students do not need high-end devices to access advanced resource-intensive applications and do not have to load them onto their personal devices. Once their device of choice is connected to the internet, each user will be provided exactly the same user experience. Someone with a $100 Acer Chromebook will have the same user experience as someone with a $2,800 M1 MacBook Pro [11].    

Furthermore, because students can quickly and easily access all of the digital resources required to be successful in a class on their device of choice, they do not have to worry about their technical readiness since they are already familiar with the laptop or smartphone and can simply focus on learning.     

Collaborative Learning: Like their students, instructors are able to securely access campus applications virtually, giving them much more freedom as to when and where they can review assignments and answer questions. Students benefit from their teacher’s expanded access by receiving feedback and instruction in real-time or outside of traditional classroom hours. Instructors can offer help at various points, as well as track analytics like user participation. 

Top-notch equipment: Schools and students that use virtual technologies have access to cutting-edge technology without the hefty price tag. Companies that build and maintain these virtual technologies compete with each other to stay ahead of technology progression and that raises the quality of options for teachers and students. Students do not have to settle for outdated, yet expensive, equipment because a school cannot afford to replace it consistently. 

Technology, much like education, has its greatest impact when it is available to everyone. Many higher education institutions are strengthening their commitment to equity and inclusion by continuing to provide access to virtual technologies even as on-campus education resumes. By doing so, colleges and universities are ensuring that students have the flexibility they want and the sup­port they need to be academically successful while living full and varied lives. Take the next step to enhancing your students’ learning journey by contacting Apporto today. 

Reference List 

[1] Duffin, E. (2021, November 2). Share of Federal Pell Grant recipients in the United States, as percentage of total undergraduate enrollment from 2010/11 to 2020/21 https://www.statista.com/statistics/235409/recipients-of-federal-pell-grants-in-the-us/  

[2-5] Hanson, M. (2021, November 18). S Pell Grant Statistics https://educationdata.org/pell-grant-statistics  

[6-8] Goward, S. (2021, April 27). Let’s keep pandemic-inspired innovations that benefit low-income college students https://edsource.org/2021/lets-keep-pandemic-inspired-innovations-that-benefit-low-income-college-students/651602  

[9] The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2020, December 14). How Colleges Can Promote Equity to Support Low-Income Students https://www.aecf.org/blog/how-colleges-can-promote-equity-to-support-low-income-students  

[10] McKenzie, L. (2021, March 29). Students Want Online Learning Options Post-Pandemic. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/04/27/survey-reveals-positive-outlook-online-instruction-post-pandemic 

[11] Beidas, S. and McHugh, L. (2022, March 27) The COVID-19 Pandemic and Retooling Application Delivery: The Transformation from Physical to Cloud-Based Infrastructure. SIGUCCS ’22 Virtual Event, New York, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.1145/3501292.3511580  

Customer Stories: Reinventing the Computer Lab, Part Three – UC Irvine

In part one of our three-part blog series on reinventing the computer lab, we discussed how Apporto helped Ithaca College reduce spending while delivering robust computing power by virtualizing and streaming apps and desktops to remote and on-campus users. Part two explored how Emory University used Apporto’s virtual computer lab platform to empower mobility and reduce IT support workload. In the conclusion of our series, we take a look at how UC Irvine leveraged Apporto to support a collaborative approach to learning. 

In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington, active learning driven by collaboration and interaction was proven to positively affect the academic performance of university students. More surprisingly, this study found that the absence of active learning can actually hurt a student’s chances of academic success [1].  

When colleges and universities shifted to remote learning during COVID-19, the collaborative nature of remote learning platforms enabled schools to deliver engaging and secure instruction to students anywhere, at any time, on any device.  

With more and more evidence showing that actively participating in the learning process encourages learners to invest more and retain the information more effectively, colleges and universities, like UC Irvine, are weaving remote technology into their collaborative learning strategies.  

Supporting a collaborative approach to learning 

UC Irvine has an extensive computer lab infrastructure that includes over 2,000 machines in active classrooms, lecture halls, and traditional, drop-in, and instructional labs. The university has identified interactive learning as a key strategic area that they want to develop.  

To that end, they’ve invested millions of dollars in the Anteater Learning Pavilion, California’s first purpose-built active learning building. UC Irvine has been using virtualization to remotely deliver apps since 2013, when they ran an Apache-based virtual computer lab with a partner company. This enabled them to provide expensive, resource-heavy software packages like MATLAB to students. By 2018, this lab was outdated, and their partner was unable to provide the support UC Irvine needed. 

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Meet Apporto, A Modern, Blazing Fast and Secure Cloud Desktop

CHALLENGE  

Like other colleges, UC Irvine (UCI) wanted to promptly get software to students in a device- and OS-agnostic way.  

UCI also wanted to reduce their IT support team’s workload which was made more challenging due to their use of a rolling upgrade cycle. This meant that there was often a wide variety of hardware and software configurations for the IT team to support. Maintaining stability and uniformity was a challenge. 

GOAL 

In addition to providing a more cost-efficient and effective replacement for their existing virtualization options, the UCI IT team wanted to expand its functionality to support more software and devices.  

Faculty also wanted controlled testing environments (e.g. LockDown browsers) for online student exams and the university needed to improve its IT security. 

SOLUTION – VIRTUAL COMPUTER LAB  

In Fall 2018, UCI piloted Apporto’s streaming service. It was so well received that they moved the service into full production in February 2019.  

Because the service is completely browser-based, there’s no change in process or usability on different devices. Files are stored on a secure server and fine-grain access controls ensure that students only access what they need for their course load. 

RESULT  

UC Irvine deployed app and desktop streaming in their collaborative and active learning initiatives, both remotely, on campus, and in the Anteater Learning Pavilion, with excellent results.  

Since switching from their VDI to Apporto, support calls dealing with course software issues have become almost non-existent. There’s a significant cost savings and the UCI IT team is planning to expand its usage of Apporto.  

Virtual Computer Labs: The Future is Now  

As these three case studies show, leading higher ed institutions are making the computer lab more relevant than ever. Labs are being reconfigured virtually to deliver interactive learning, online learning, student collaboration, BYOD policies, and other new use cases.  

At the same time, IT teams are rebalancing their computer lab footprint to reflect new learning methods. Adopting this approach allows IT departments to deliver on strategic initiatives, lower their overall costs, and empower students to reach greater success.  

Contact us today to schedule a live demo and see for yourself why hundreds of colleges and universities across the globe trust Apporto with their transformation from physical to cloud-based infrastructures.  

[1] Urton, J. (2020, March 9). Underrepresented college students benefit more from ‘active learning’ techniques in STEM courses. https://www.washington.edu/news/2020/03/09/underrepresented-students-stem-active-learning/ 

Customer Stories: Reinventing the Computer Lab, Part Two – Emory University

In part one of our three-part blog series, we discussed how Apporto helped Ithaca College reduce spending while delivering robust computing power by virtualizing and streaming apps and desktops to remote and on-campus users.

Part two will discuss how Emory University used Apporto’s virtual computer lab platform to  empower mobility and reduce IT support workload.

Empowering Mobility And Reducing IT Support

Students at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School (GBS) have access to a traditional computer lab. The IT department also provides students with access to necessary software, which can be downloaded onto their own laptops as part of their orientation. 

CHALLENGE  

Many of Emory’s GBS students are working professionals and did not want to spend time driving to the computer labs to use software – therefore, the computer lab was often unused. One week before finals, the lab was empty!

Emory’s IT support staff also had to help students with complicated installs. This led to slow support ticket response times. 

Another challenge was that students’ files lived on their devices, with no Cloud backup. If a student lost or broke their device, they’d lose their files and have to reinstall the program all over again. 

GOAL 

The GBS IT team wanted to free students from the hassle of being tied to a lab – or even to their own laptops. They wanted students to be able to work on multiple devices, without installing software and without being required to have a specific OS. 

Essentially, they wanted their computer lab to become a virtual-first experience.

Virtual Computer Labs: 2-year Impact Assessment Conducted by IIT

The Office of Technology Services at The Illinois Institute of Technology has completed a two-year assessment of its transformation from physical infrastructure to Apporto’s virtual computer lab.​ Read their findings here.
Illinois Institute of Technology

RESULT  

Moving to a streaming model has allowed students to focus on learning, drastically reducing time spent on course software issues. The IT team is also reimagining the computer lab as a virtual space that supports student collaboration and growth. They are also looking at using Apporto for faculty to use when working from home. 

UC Irvine also looked to Apporto to help them take a more collaborative approach to learning. You can read their story in Part Three of our series here 

A trusted partner for higher education institutions and enterprises since 2014, Apporto works with customers to understand their unique needs in order to reduce demands on IT departments, maximize productivity, and boost security architectures. Contact us today to learn how our turnkey DaaS solutions empower educators and inspire student learning.  

  

  

Customer Stories: Reinventing the Computer Lab, Part One – Ithaca College

Since the 1990’s, campus computer labs have been critical hubs for connecting higher ed students to new technologies. They provided free and easy access to computers, scanners, printers, and the internet, for completing homework and projects.  

With student device ownership fast approaching 100% and on-campus computer labs consuming significant budget dollars in the form of hardware, software, IT support hours, and real estate, the question facing many higher education IT leaders this Fall is how can they equip their computer labs to serve emerging use cases, stay within budget, and deliver a secure and user-friendly experience?   

In this 3-part blog series, we’ll explore how three leading schools are rethinking their approach to computer labs and what they are doing to ensure all student and faculty needs are met.  

Reducing Spend While Delivering Computing Power  

Ithaca College (IC) maintains over 60 computer labs and e-Classrooms. They use a four-year refresh cycle; each year, approximately 250 computers are replaced. Even so, IC’s computer labs were often underutilized. At times, students visited a lab to use the high-quality monitors, or, they treated it as a place to use their own devices or collaborate with their classmates.  

CHALLENGE 

Maintaining this type of lab is expensive, and the IT team needed to reduce unnecessary spend without compromising on user experience. Meanwhile, student desktops were not persistent and lab usage stats were vague. For students, using course-specific software was either inconvenient (requiring multiple visits to a physical lab) or expensive (purchasing their own software).  

GOAL 

IC wanted to re-evaluate their computer lab concept, reducing the costs associated with physical labs while still providing students with the infrastructure and services needed for their courses. The goal was to move to a solution that was Cloud-based and built on modern computing standards. This would allow students to use course software and desktops anywhere, at any time, and on any device.  

Virtual Computer Lab ROI Calculator

Apporto’s virtual computer labs maximize learning and optimize efficiencies at 50-70% less than the cost of traditional VDI solutions. See for yourself why the Navy and top universities like UCLA and Emory have already discovered by using our Virtual Computer Lab ROI Calculator.
ROI, Return on investment, Business and financial concept.

SOLUTIONVIRTUAL COMPUTER LABS

IC worked with Apporto to virtualize and stream apps and desktops to remote and on-campus users. This has enabled IC to provide all students with course-critical software and computing power at a lower cost. It also allows the IC IT team to deliver persistent desktops and secure file storage to students. Since this Cloud-based Virtual Computer Lab service is billed based on usage, it eliminates IC’s underutilization problem, and it requires a limited financial investment.  

RESULT 

Students and faculty who have used Apporto love the platform. Rather than just seeing an instructor demonstrate techniques, students can follow along in class using their own devices in an engaging and interactive format. Built-in usage analytics allow the IT team to see how the service is being used, and support requests have primarily been limited to asking for new apps to be added to the service – which the Apporto team does within days. 

COVID-19 and the subsequent move to remote and hybrid learning accelerated the digitalization of higher education organizations. Now that students and faculty have experienced the flexibility and security afforded by remote learning technologies, it will be very difficult for colleges and universities to revert back to the traditional 100% in-person teaching model. Expectations have changed and schools have to change to meet them. Virtualizing and streaming apps and desktops to remote and on-campus users is one way in which organizations can enhance students’ learning journeys and future-proof their operations.         

To learn how Emory University empowered mobility and reduced the need for IT support, read Part Two of our series here. 

A trusted partner for higher education institutions and enterprises since 2014, Apporto works with customers to understand their unique needs in order to reduce demands on IT departments, maximize productivity, and boost security architectures. Contact us today to learn how our turnkey DaaS solutions empower educators and inspire student learning. 

Virtual Technology is Higher Ed’s Secret Weapon to Combatting Declining Enrollment

Virtual Learning Environment

As the global pandemic prompted higher education institutions to adapt to a new learning frontier, it shined a spotlight on virtual technologies and their ability to provide secure and engaging learning experiences anywhere, on any device, at any time.

The same technology that helped colleges and universities continue to deliver high-quality education to students during COVID-19 could now be the very solution that they need to overcome a new crisis facing higher education.

This blog will examine the various virtual technologies that facilitated remote learning during the pandemic and explore how the institutions that continue to embrace tech-forward teaching will be the ones to win the battle for new students this Fall.

The Technologies Virtualizing Education and Why They Remain So Popular

In a 2021 EDUCAUSE QuickPoll of university administrators, IT departments, and other staff, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they would like a remote option post-pandemic. This strongly echoes student sentiment regarding future learning preferences. In a 2021 Digital Learning Pulse survey, 73 percent of students polled “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed that they would like to take some fully online courses in the future. A slightly smaller number of students, 68 percent, indicated they would be interested in taking courses offering a combination of in-person and online instruction [1].

Why is there a desire to hold on to remote learning when it is no longer a necessary conduit for socially-distanced education? Technologies such as virtual computer labs, Zero Trust virtual desktops, and virtual cybersecurity labs enhance the learning process and help modernize instruction in today’s highly digitalized world.

Virtual computer labs (VCL) are instrumental in helping students learn, work with software programs, complete assignments, and interact with classmates and instructors. With virtual computer labs, instead of a student visiting a physical computer lab, a student can use any device connected to the internet to access a virtual version of that lab and leverage its respective software and resources.

The VCL is accessed via a web-browser interface and is platform independent. All operating systems, software, and applications are centrally maintained in the cloud, so end-users do not need to house or maintain any of the programs or software on their own machines; instead, they simply login to the cloud-based system to access everything they would use when visiting the brick-and-mortar campus computer lab.

Zero Trust virtual desktops are virtual desktops built around the core Zero Trust concept of “Trust no one and always verify.” Zero Trust is a relatively new security framework that ensures everyone both inside and outside of an organization is authorized before any interaction with network applications or data occurs. Zero Trust virtual desktops deliver data, apps, and tools securely in the browser via HTML, so there’s no need to worry about maintaining the security level of each endpoint device.

As with Zero Trust virtual desktops, students access virtual cybersecurity labs by logging in from any virtual device with an internet connection. End-users do not need to house or maintain any of the programs or software on their own machines; instead, they simply login to the cloud-based system.

With a scenario-based approach, cloud-based virtual cybersecurity labs provide the best training environment for teaching network security. Students encounter and work through real-life scenarios in cyber labs that reinforce the lessons learned in the classroom.

Although each virtual solution has particular benefits exclusive to them and their specific use cases, users of virtual computer labs, Zero Trust virtual desktops, and virtual cybersecurity labs often cite the following benefits:

  • Flexible and equitable access. Virtual technologies enable students to complete their work at the student’s convenience. Students can engage in an active learning environment anytime, anywhere because they are no longer bound to a certain location or schedule. Furthermore, students don’t need high-end devices to access advanced resource-intensive applications and do not have to load it onto their personal devices. Once their device of choice is connected to the interne, each user will be provided exactly the same user experience.
  • Collaborative Learning. Like their students, instructors are able to securely access campus applications virtually, giving them much more freedom as to when and where they can review assignments and answer questions. Students benefit from their teacher’s expanded access by receiving feedback and instruction in real-time or outside of traditional classroom hours. Instructors can offer help at various points, as well as track analytics like user participation.
  • Top-notch equipment. Schools and students that use virtual technologies have access to cutting-edge technology without the hefty price tag. Companies that build and maintain these virtual technologies compete with each other to stay ahead of technology progression and that raises the quality of options for teachers and students. Students do not have to settle on outdated, yet expensive, equipment because a school cannot afford to replace it consistently.
  • Lower costs. There is a fee associated with using virtual technologies but the capital and maintenance costs are drastically reduced. Customers pay a predictable low cost. Everything is already included; that means no implementation or consulting fees and no costly hardware replacements. This allows school to provide a better learning experience for students at a fraction of the cost.
  • Less Pressure on IT: Third-party Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) providers provisioning the virtual technologies store and manage operating systems, software, applications, and data in cloud-based data centers around the world, allowing customers to free up both on-premises equipment and IT resources to focus on other mission-critical priorities.

Virtual Computer Labs: 2-year Impact Assessment Conducted by IIT

The Office of Technology Services at The Illinois Institute of Technology has completed a two-year assessment of its transformation from physical infrastructure to Apporto’s virtual computer lab.​ Read their findings here.
Illinois Institute of Technology

Winning the Enrollment Battle Through Technology

The decline in college enrollment is worsening. According to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), the overall two-year decline in college enrollment has reached 7.4%, or nearly 1.3 million students since spring 2020 [2].

One way in which higher ed institutions can turn the tide on declining enrollment is to showcase their ability to support remote learning. Expanding the number of remote courses and programs available, and giving students the technology to support their virtual pursuits, will make schools more appealing to students who want to maintain the educational flexibility to which they have become accustomed during COVID.

According to an Ipsos survey for the World Economic Forum, 72 percent of respondents predict that hybrid learning models will be the norm by 2025 [3]. By enlisting remote-access teaching and learning tools like virtual computer labs, Zero Trust virtual desktops, and virtual cybersecurity labs, colleges and universities stay ahead of the curve and ensure that students receive hands-on educational experiences regardless of their physical locations.

The transition to online education is also enabling institutions to reach out to nontraditional students and students from underserved areas and under-represented communities. Nontraditional students (students identifying as any combination of: part-time, adult learners, returning/re-entry, commuter, veteran, online/distance learners, individuals who work full-time, who have dependents other than a spouse or partner, or students who do not have a high school diploma) make up almost 75% of the nearly 20 million students currently enrolled in post-secondary education [4]. Institutions can show that they can accommodate the educational needs of nontraditional students, by supporting a flexible learning ecosystem that gives students more options, allowing them to take courses while managing other responsibilities.

Additionally, the anytime anywhere access to critical academic resources afforded by virtual computer labs, Zero Trust virtual desktops, and virtual cybersecurity labs, opens the doors to digital spaces that may have otherwise remained closed. Because these technologies only require an internet-connected device and not expensive hardware or software, the student experience is equalized from a technological standpoint and every student’s success is supported. Someone with a $100 Acer Chromebook will have the same user experience as someone with a $2,800 M1 MacBook Pro [5].

Conclusion

To keep schools competitive, institutions must quickly adjust to students’ new expectations and use all available digital resources to improve the student journey. Learning institutions that offer virtual computer labs, Zero Trust virtual desktops, or virtual cybersecurity labs within a flexible learn-at-your-own-pace environment will not only maximize their student capacity, they will also open up a world of possibilities to nontraditional students and students from underserved areas and under-represented communities; providing a more rewarding and inclusive academic experience for everyone.

A trusted partner for higher education institutions since 2014, Apporto works with customers to understand their unique needs in order to reduce demands on IT departments, maximize productivity, and boost security architectures. Contact us today to learn how our virtual computer labs, Zero Trust virtual desktops, and virtual cybersecurity labs can enhance your students’ learning journey too.

References:

[1] McKenzie, L. (2021, April 27). Students Want Online Learning Options Post-Pandemic. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/04/27/survey-reveals-positive-outlook-online-instruction-post-pandemic

[2] Nietzel, M. T. (2022, May 26). New Report: The College Enrollment Decline Worsened This Spring. https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltnietzel/2022/05/26/new-report-the-college-enrollment-decline-has-worsened-this-spring/?sh=463def7f24e0

[3] Morad, R. (2022, March 11). Universities Reimagine Teaching Labs for a Virtual Future. https://edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2022/03/universities-reimagine-teaching-labs-virtual-future

[4] Gilbert, N. (2022, June 30) 19 Higher Education Trends for 2022/2023: Latest Forecasts To Watch Out For. https://financesonline.com/trends-in-higher-education/

[5] Beidas, S. and McHugh, L. (2022, March 27) The COVID-19 Pandemic and Retooling Application Delivery: The Transformation from Physical to Cloud-Based Infrastructure. SIGUCCS ’22 Virtual Event, New York, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.1145/3501292.3511580

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What is a Virtual Computer Lab?

Virtual Computer Lab View

Computer labs are commonly found at universities, colleges, technical schools, and corporate training facilities. For the past several decades, they have facilitated hands-on learning of computer-related skills for students around the world. However, in more recent years, especially during the global pandemic, many institutions have looked for ways to provide remote access to these systems, hence, coining the term “virtual computer lab.”

Conventional Computer Lab Design

In the past, computer labs have typically been a collection of free-standing desktops loaded with the operating systems, software, and applications needed for the courses. Later, these desktops were networked to enable sharing resources, equipment, and files. In some cases, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) may have been implemented, connecting the classroom devices to an internal data center that could centrally manage problems, security, and updates. In all these situations, the computer lab equipment and related systems and data were physically confined to the specific institution.

Enter Desktop-as-a-Service Options

In recent years, many desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) providers have entered the market, offering virtual desktop services to their customers based on a subscription fee. These vendors usually handle the day-to-day management of the virtual computer lab, including centrally optimizing the operating systems, software, applications, data, and security from cloud-based data centers.

While many DaaS providers can handle implementing and managing the basics of a virtual computer lab, the details of deploying the finished solution often require internal IT resources for the management of application licenses, customization of coursework, integration with a learning management system, and other organization-specific requirements. This frequently results in significant time and investment that the school or training center may not have anticipated.

Virtual Computer Lab ROI Calculator

Apporto’s virtual computer labs maximize learning and optimize efficiencies at 50-70% less than the cost of traditional VDI solutions. See for yourself why the Navy and top universities like UCLA and Emory have already discovered by using our Virtual Computer Lab ROI Calculator.
ROI, Return on investment, Business and financial concept.

Turnkey Solution for Virtual Computer Labs

Apporto has taken the DaaS solution one step further by creating a turnkey option specifically for higher education organizations interested in virtualizing their brick-and-mortar computer labs. With state-of-the-art techniques such as advanced compression, geo-optimization, and autoscaling, Apporto ensures that instructors and students can interact easily with the browser-based solution through any internet-connected device.

Students can access all the resources and applications from their school or training center from a single portal, On the operating system of their choice. Applying its years of experience in the higher ed space, Apporto brings expertise and reliability along with a turnkey solution to universities, colleges, technical institutes, and corporate learning centers.

Benefits of a Virtual Computer Lab

Whether you decide to build an internally based VDI computer lab, partner with a conventional DaaS solution provider, or work with Apporto’s turnkey solution, virtual computer labs afford many benefits to the teaching organization. For instance, all three simplify the management of operating systems, software, applications, and data. A centralized system allows universities or other teaching organizations to easily manage things like updates, security, and troubleshooting. There’s no need to worry about individual devices; all critical components are centrally managed.

Working with a DaaS solution provider adds the benefit of predictable subscription pricing, which is typically much lower upfront than investing in an in-house solution. Universities and learning centers can often customize the features, user seats, and hours required, allowing them to pay for only the time and services they need. In addition, relying on an outside vendor means that colleges and companies can free up internal IT resources to focus on other more important initiatives. This can be particularly important in the current labor environment where finding and retaining IT talent is a significant challenge.

Selecting a turnkey solution such as Apporto results in an additional layer of benefits to the school or teaching center. Our system is device-agnostic, meaning that the power and capability of the student’s computer is irrelevant to the access and performance of the system. Our browser-based system equips students with reliable access to everything they need to learn new material and practice their skills in a realistic environment, leveling the technology playing field for all students.

In addition, Apporto’s solution integrates seamlessly with most major learning management systems, allowing faculty to easily move between lesson plans, live classroom environments, virtual office hours, and assignment submission and grading with a single login. Instructors can also view all their students’ screens at one time, watching as they work through an exercise as well as communicate in real-time with students who are raising their hands by chat, email, or voice. If further assistance is needed, instructors can share screens or even take control of a student’s desktop to help. This active learning environment is available anytime, anywhere.

A Vital Tool in Tomorrow’s Marketplace

As technology developments continue to multiply across every industry and throughout the world, more and more IT savvy professionals will be needed to create, manage, integrate, and apply these advanced tools to particular industries and companies. Demand for expertise in related fields such as cybersecurity continues to grow as well.

These and other similar factors will continue putting pressure on universities, colleges, technical schools, freestanding training centers, and corporate training and development departments to find new and creative ways to teach these complex topics.

Those learning institutions that can offer a virtual computer lab within a flexible learn-at-your-own-pace environment will not only maximize their student capacity but also provide a valuable service to companies, industries, and the overall economy.

A trusted partner for higher education institutions and enterprises since 2014, Apporto works with customers to understand their unique needs in order to reduce demands on IT departments, maximize productivity, and boost security architectures. Contact us today to learn how our turnkey DaaS solutions empower educators and inspire student learning.

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VDI vs. DaaS

VDI vs. DaaS

If you’re beginning to explore the world of virtual desktops, you may run across the terms virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) in your research. If you’re wondering what the similarities and differences are between these two terms, you’ve come to the right place. This brief primer will help define both these solutions, the pros and cons of each, and what types of companies may benefit from one versus the other.

What is VDI?

Typically, the term VDI refers to an internally based computer system that houses operating systems, software, applications, and other technologies in a central data center. All employees, contractors, customers, and other stakeholders access the company’s IT infrastructure through internal WAN, connecting on virtual desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, or other devices.

This type of solution allows centralized management, maintenance, and troubleshooting for the business’s IT staff instead of needing to work on every end device. This saves IT resources, which are in short supply, and helps companies run their computing systems much more efficiently.

In today’s remote work environment, VDI can be a reliable and secure solution that allows disparate employees to share resources, communicate, and access critical company data from any location. However, building one can take a significant amount of resources as the infrastructure for such a data center can be complex and expensive.

What is DaaS?

DaaS works very similar to VDI, but it typically refers to an external service provider that offers the virtual desktop solution to multiple customers in the cloud. Like VDI, all operating systems, software, applications, storage, and data are centrally stored. However, instead of residing in an on-premise data center, the system sits in cloud-based data centers, usually in geographically diverse locations.

The DaaS partner, in turn, handles all the management and maintenance of the virtual desktop system for its clients. The vendor is responsible for staying on top of the latest developments and ensuring that governance and security remain reliable and of a high quality.

That said, specific use cases may require that IT staff make additional modifications or integrations in order to ensure that the DaaS system can meet all of the needs of a particular company or organization.

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The Pros and Cons of Each

Functionally, VDI and DaaS operate very much alike. One big difference between the two, though, is who is responsible for the management, implementation, and day-to-day maintenance tasks, as well as how resources are allocated.

The main advantage of VDI is maintaining internal control of the data center and the virtual desktop solution. Your organization determines the priorities and chooses when and how updates and patches are handled without waiting for a third-party vendor to deliver. However, the cost of setting up an internal data center, managing software licenses, and keeping up with technological advances can be significant. In addition, an internal IT team will be required to handle the ongoing maintenance and network latency and performance can be an issue.

Using DaaS service providers can allow companies to tap into a wealth of experience and expertise at a low-entry price. In addition, features can be customized to deliver the services that your company specifically needs. Many disadvantages result if an incompatible or inexperienced DaaS partner is selected, and companies may feel a loss of control of a virtual desktop solution if it is managed by a third party.

In addition, if an organization has a complex application for the DaaS solution, additional modifications may be required in order to ensure that the system is fully operational. This can compound the costs of integration, customization, and ongoing maintenance.

Another important distinction between VDI and DaaS is the scalability and cost implications. With VDI, scalability is limited. The infrastructure is built around meeting peak demand. The cost of that infrastructure does not decrease if demand does. In contrast, with DaaS your infrastructure cost reflects demand, you only pay for what you use. This provides huge cost savings for organizations that experience vast fluctuations. In higher ed environments in particular, where usage dramatically changes throughout the year, DaaS provides the flexibility and cost savings colleges and universities need.

 

An Easier Solution

Building on the strengths of both VDI and DaaS, Apporto has crafted technology that takes the complexity out of implementation, making them turnkey for client IT teams. For example, hyperstreaming capabilities are built into the solution to allow for premium audio and video transfer. Organizations such as colleges that must operate on Windows, Mac and Linux no longer have to worry about managing all these operating systems as those customizations are built into the Apporto solution. Desktop variations also come pre-packaged, lightening the load for your IT staff.

How to Decide What’s Best for You

As in making all technology-related decisions, companies must review their goals and priorities, weigh the pros and cons of available solutions, and select the option that appears to be the best fit.

Larger companies with an established data center and IT department may find that implementing a VDI is a relatively simple next step to manage remote workers. Small start-ups looking to dabble in virtual desktops may appreciate the low cost of entry from DaaS providers. Organizations seeking specific use cases that match Apporto’s expertise and offerings may prefer an easier, turnkey solution to reduce costs and IT resources required for maintenance.

Whichever category your organization falls into, virtual desktop solutions are here to stay and likely to become even more commonplace in the future. Learning about the different options now will help you be prepared to make the best decision for your organization when the time is right.

Apporto has been providing DaaS solutions to satisfied customers since 2014. Our team is made up of dedicated experts that have years of experience helping businesses just like yours take full advantage of DaaS technology. Contact us today to see our platform in action.

What is a Cyber Range?

Cyber Range Security Training

Cybersecurity may be one of the highest priorities for a wide range of businesses today. One look at the business news, and it’s easy to see why. Cybercrime is on the rise, with bad agents becoming more and more sophisticated in how they threaten networks and businesses.

It’s no wonder that the number of cybersecurity training programs are on the rise as well, scrambling to provide enough trained talent to combat this growing problem. Colleges, universities, trade schools, stand-alone education centers, and internal training departments of major corporations have developed courses, materials, and simulated lab environments to help students learn to prevent, identify, and mitigate cyber threats.

A cyber range is a high-fidelity clone of a real-life network system under a simulated cyber attack. By replicating things like servers, applications, networking, open-source tools, and security stack tools, a cyber range is designed to help professionals learn and practice these critical skills.

 

What’s the difference between a cyber lab and a cyber range?

The idea of a “cybersecurity lab” may be more common, and many people may use the term “cyber range” synonymously. However, there are important differences between the two.

Virtual cybersecurity labs are typically used early in the education and training process and are designed to teach very specific skills in a controlled environment. For example, a student might learn a particular component of cybersecurity in theory, and then practice by executing recently taught actions in a controlled cyber lab. The simulated situation guides the students down a scripted path to reach a predetermined “correct” result.

Virtual cybersecurity lab training is excellent at teaching standalone subject areas as well as training students on the basics of keeping a network safe at a preventive level. These tools can be updated to reflect current subject areas and encourage a great deal of repetition to perfect basic skills.

A cyber range, on the other hand, is more frequently found as part of IT training in a particular company. It works in the actual environment, complete with real cyber threats, and allows IT professionals to practice at a more holistic level. Virtual machines can be set up with software-defined networks and realistic network routing. Cyber ranges are created with several repeatable tasks so that the system can be reset for additional practice in the same environment.

Virtual Computer Lab ROI Calculator

Apporto’s virtual computer labs maximize learning and optimize efficiencies at 50-70% less than the cost of traditional VDI solutions. See for yourself why the Navy and top universities like UCLA and Emory have already discovered by using our Virtual Computer Lab ROI Calculator.
ROI, Return on investment, Business and financial concept.

 

What does a cyber range teach?

Besides providing a real-life environment, a cyber range is designed to instill a wide range of necessary skills in this ever-evolving industry:

  • Greater Understanding. Cybersecurity professionals must not only know what actions should be taken in specific situations but also the reasoning behind those actions. By using a cyber range, professionals learn to understand which threats exist, their attack vectors, and how to stop the threat from spreading through a specific system.
  • Working in an Imperfect Environment. The vast majority of IT systems in any industry will have multiple patches and updates to operating systems, software, applications, and integrations. Cyber ranges allow students to practice identifying, testing, and mitigating threats in these not-so-perfect environments.
  • Updated Networks. Since cyber ranges are typically cloud-based, they can be automatically updated with any real-life patches and improvements in real-time.
  • Scalability. Depending on training needs, a cyber range can be easily scaled to provide a custom practice environment. Once one level of competence has been achieved, the cyber threat landscape can be expanded to introduce more complex scenarios.

Cyber ranges can be used to test security stacks and system configurations as well as provide actual attack situations to educate and evaluate specific employees or teams. They can help check whether a company’s security policies are being utilized and enforced and also prove compliance with government or industry regulations. By synchronizing the response by people, processes, and technology, cyber ranges can help optimize how a cyber threat is handled and ensure prompt action in the case of a live event. In some areas, cyber ranges can help companies developing new security products test and mature their offerings.

What are the benefits of cyber ranges?

Cyber ranges are excellent tools for today’s business in just about any industry with an online presence. They offer a wide range of benefits including:

  • Cyber Readiness. In today’s world, it’s no longer a question of “if” but “when” a cyber attack will occur. Cyber ranges help improve an organization’s readiness for when that day arrives.
  • Prove Compliance. Evolving along with cybercrime is the ever-increasing level of regulations both at the government and industry level. A cyber range helps companies provide evidence of ongoing compliance.
  • Testing Security Stack. It’s likely that a wide range of security protocols and tools already exist within a modern business. Cyber ranges help professionals stress and test those tools and processes to ensure they are working as expected.
  • Practice Attack Response. By simulating an actual attack, organizations can see how every level of the company responds in a cyber range environment. This provides a basis for improvement and process changes before a real attack happens.
  • Screen Potential Employees. A cyber range can be used as a testing ground as a part of the interview process for hiring IT professionals. Evaluate a potential employee’s ability to respond to a simulated attack on a clone of your company’s actual system.
  • Refine Training Program. Along the same lines as evaluating new hires, a cyber range can help a company identify both strengths and weaknesses of an internal team. This information can then be used to develop future training programs to shore up weaker areas.

A trusted partner for higher education institutions and enterprises since 2014, Apporto works with customers to understand their unique needs in order to reduce demands on IT departments, maximize productivity, and boost security architectures. Contact us today to learn how our turnkey DaaS solutions empower educators and inspire student learning.

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