This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of OnWindows
Istanbul Aydin University (IAU) in Turkey, which has more than 27,000 students, wanted to establish a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). It aimed to give students access to data and applications around campus, while also solving its challenge of trying to support university workstations.
Operating in an increasingly competitive market among international private universities, IAU hoped to continue attracting the best and brightest students. It was crucial to give everyone flexible access to the applications they needed as part of their study programmes. The idea was that no matter where the students were on campus, they could log in to the nearest desktop and access the relevant applications. What’s more, the university wanted the VDI to be the first step towards a fully operational bring-your-own-device (BYOD) enabled infrastructure in the years to come.
For IAU, its VDI goals didn’t end with students. The institution also wanted to simplify and automate all the tasks required to manage clients. The team’s ten administrators spent a large part of their working week supporting the 1,000 desktops that the university had at the time. They were constantly working on upgrades or applying software patches to many of the 65 applications running across the university’s desktops.
Birol Çelik, IT manager at Istanbul Aydin University (IAU), says: “We needed to streamline the whole desktop management process and save time so we could focus on strategic projects. We had a whole list of projects that we wanted to spend more time on, and migrating to a VDI was going to help us do that.”
The university chose Citrix XenDesktop as the VDI software and began to study possible solutions for the back-end infrastructure. A key component of the back-end would be the server platform. Among the 65 applications running on the student desktops were a significant number of design packages, such as Autodesk, AutoCAD and Adobe, supporting the university’s engineering and architecture study programmes.
The IT team turned to Dell, which had a long-standing relationship with IAU. “We had been running VMware virtualised Dell servers for a number of years,” says Çelik. “Among the applications running on Dell was Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft SharePoint Server, and we used Dell for our Active Directory. We found Dell to be a good partner. The account team is responsive and it understands the importance of our IT. When we needed support, it’s always been fast.”
Working with Dell, IAU undertook a proof of concept (POC) based on the Dell PowerEdge R720 server with NVIDIA GRID technology. With this technology, graphics processing would be taken over by a GPU instead of a central processing unit (CPU). For IAU, it meant graphics-intensive programs would run just as effectively over the network as if they were operating locally on a high-performance workstation.
Çelik remembers: “The POC proved the value of the Dell PowerEdge servers running NVIDIA GPUs. When we calculated the price and performance of the servers, and added the support of Dell, we decided that Dell PowerEdge technology was definitely the right choice for our VDI.”
The IAU team rolled out VDI into the production environment with the support of Dell Deployment Services. Today there are 12 Dell PowerEdge R720 servers with NVDIA GRID technology, ensuring the Citrix XenDesktop environment is reliable for up to 1,000 concurrent users. To manage the servers, the IT team uses VMware vCenter Server, the server management software for its entire virtualised infrastructure.
According to Çelik, the servers have been a good investment. “We’re very happy with the performance of the Dell servers. Students and university personnel are receiving an excellent VDI experience. I think we’re getting the maximum out of our Citrix XenDesktop environment,” he says.
With the VDI in place, students access the data they need from any of the university’s desktops. There are currently 3,000 desktops – 2,000 more than before the VDI project – for the students to use. As a result, queues no longer form outside laboratories for access to desktops with specific applications because all the university’s applications are available from any machine. Furthermore, Microsoft OneDrive is integrated into every desktop so students can upload data and access the information from home on their own devices.
“Students receive much better support from their IT,” comments Çelik. “It’s easier for them to study at a time and location that suits them. Now it doesn’t matter if they’re studying architecture or advanced engineering, they enjoy great access to their 3D design programs right across campus.”
Çelik highlights how much easier the VDI is to control with a simple metric. “In the past, we had a team of ten administrators to manage around 1,000 desktops. Today, with our VDI in place, the same administrators can easily manage 3,000 desktops and still have more time to work on strategic projects.”
For students, it won’t be long before they begin to feel the effects of this increased IT productivity. “The time we’re saving as a result of the VDI running on Dell servers can be used to drive our BYOD project. Once the BYOD infrastructure is in place, students will be free to integrate their personal devices into their study programmes to work even more effectively,” says Çelik.
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