Welcome!

Linux Authors: Pat Romanski, Carmen Gonzalez, Elizabeth White, Jnan Dash, Yeshim Deniz

Blog Feed Post

The Collegiate Cloud: An Interview with Ferris State University’s Amy Buse

Ferris State University (FSU) is an accredited state university located in Big Rapids, Michigan, offering multiple computing degree plans within its Business/Technology Consortium. The college serves more than 14,000 on- and off-campus students in the region.

 

I had the opportunity to sit down with Ferris State Professor Amy Buse to learn more about how the school has provided its students with cutting-edge cloud computing technology across a number of applications to better prepare them for their careers after graduation.

Jason: How did you discover Skytap, since it is not commonly used in education?

Amy: I found out about Skytap at Interop a couple years ago. I heard a speaker from the company and knew “I gotta go talk to this guy.” We had researched a lot of other vendors but nobody else had the ability to allow our students install the operating system themselves on bare metal, and not build the cost of the operating system into the charge of each system. As an educational institution, we have flat fee access to unlimited licenses of Windows and other software packages, so we don’t need to have OS licensing fees rolled into each image.

I was teaching a Linux class off-campus, and we would need to remote desktop into the workstations and VMs back in the classroom of the main campus. It was a huge hassle if something happened to the computers back in the lab, or there was a connection problem. So I went to my administration and said if we are going to continue doing off-campus learning, we need a better way.

Jason: What programs are using Cloud labs?

Amy: We teach three programs off campus using Skytap:

  • CIS (computer information systems) students who grow up to be programmers and systems analysts on the software side.
  • CIT (computer information technology) students who grow up to be server and network administrators and; 
  • ISI (information security & intelligence) students who learn to harden servers, but they are more on the forensic side - proving what happened after a problem

In ISI they will set up a lab and have students with labs spin them up and try to attack each other. Our first question to Skytap as a vendor was “can we hurt you?” But some particular thing we did in our first semester caused Skytap to take a new look at one of their access policies!

There’s also an HVAC (Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning) off-campus program, and when they found out what we were doing with labs they let students connect their Skytap environment to simulate their interface with Johnson Controls equipment that operates heating and air conditioning systems on site.

Jason: Is usage of Skytap growing in the organization?

Amy: There’s certainly potential for more usage of Skytap in other labs, but we need to consider who funds our capacity – I only have funding secured for business technology programs, so I am not advertising it broadly to other departments. But we talk quite a lot about it among our faculty. The professors that use Skytap a lot are very, very happy with it.

Some people say “you could just set up your own VMs in a data center” but it is the user experience of Skytap on top of the hypervisor that makes it phenomenal. It is easy to take one lab machine, configure it the way we want it, with all the software on it, and then automatically stamp one out per student with a discrete URL. Before that, there was no way to do that.

We have to support ourselves – as technology faculty we are responsible for our systems. So we were maintaining our own lab machines at the main campus, and we had to tell students when and when not to remote in because of other student needs, so there were no conflicts.

Now our students don’t have to fit work time into the 5-7pm lab slot after the class. They don’t even worry about limited access to a remote desktop. They have availability to study or do their homework at any time.

Jason: What was the existing lab environment like?

Amy: On campus, we’d have some desktop computers in a lab running VMware, where students could create their virtual machines. In our off-campus class we have some Mac laptops, so teachers would start the class, students would get the shared laptops out of the closet and work on them, and then they’d need to put them right back in the closet at the end of the lesson. This meant students had no ability to actually use the tools and do hands-on homework.

A few students had their own laptops they could set up with the system, but then that would become a huge burden on faculty to support those configurations. The faculty could sometimes spend 10 weeks out of a 15-week semester before they were done troubleshooting the students’ systems.

We would rather have the training VMs available to run 24/7, so instead of remoting into computers on campus, the student could look at them any time and turn them on to do their homework.

So we were looking at the prospect of having to build our own remote training labs, with servers, VMs and software configurations updated and backed up. We’d be on our own in that process with little help from IT. The workload would have been unsupportable for our faculty, we’d all have to teach fewer classes to handle it. Plus procurement of everything could take a semester or more.

Jason: What would it take to do this yourself?

Amy: If we took the “build our own” route, we were estimating an additional equipment cost of at least $120,000 per year, just for the hardware. Add to that all the configuration and maintenance labor. We could communicate to the school that the conventional approach would still fall a great deal short of what we needed.

We are trying to put additional value numbers together, but there are approximately 550 business technology students per semester leveraging Skytap. The per-student cost of dev/test labs is sustainable at our current costs.

Jason: What are some of the use case scenarios?

Amy: Capture the Flag is an educational game we run, where each student has to create an entire infrastructure of VMs in Skytap, and use it to attack two other students’ labs.

In another IT management class, students had to learn how to build a system from the ground up, and then work with lab partner teams, where one would be in charge of configurations, and the lab partner would act as the sysadmin and make sure the work gets backed up. 

Jason: What were the administrative difficulties of getting this off the ground?

Amy: I initially brought the solution to FSU to address the limitations we were encountering in the technology labs, and made the business case for funding. 

Fortunately we had a VP of operations (Don Green, VP of Extended and International Operations) who wanted us to get into cloud services a few years ago, and wanted us to find a way to teach in the cloud. He has understood that we needed this approach and supported the funding of the project. We would have had a much more difficult time getting this new approach approved without a champion.

Because we were moving to cloud, we had a lot of questions about our students’ privacy. Just like the healthcare industry has HIPAA, we have FERPA (Federal Education Right to Privacy Act) that dictates how personal data about our students can be managed.  For instance, the data that a particular student takes a particular class, and their email address are protected by FERPA. 

So we are asked “What student data are you putting out there?” and we can honestly say “None.” The student never has a personal login, they are just getting to their virtual machines via a published URL. That made it easy to go forward.

Jason: Can students still cheat on their exams now?

Amy: Most students don’t have a login, they just use Skytap’s Published URL feature to get to their machines. In a couple of classes we did give students a login to the Skytap Cloud management dashboard, so they could build their configurations from the ground up. But we toggled the features in Skytap to keep it fair and prevent them from uploading or copying VMs and environments into their area.

Sometimes it’s hard for students to distinguish between latency in their network connection and the application itself. So inevitably you will hear some complaints about response times, but that is always a product of the quality of their network connection – if they’re using wifi in a crowded coffee shop rather than a solid connection.

Want to learn more about how Skytap helps eliminate classroom setup hassles with virtual training environments in the cloud? Click here! Or, start your own free trial, or request a custom demo for your unique use case today!

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Skytap Blog

Author: Noel Wurst is the managing content editor at Skytap. Skytap provides SaaS-based dev/test environments to the enterprise. Skytap solution removes the inefficiencies and constraints that companies have within their software development lifecycle. As a result, customers release better software faster. In this blog, we publish engaging, thought provoking stories that revolve around agile enterprise applications and cloud-based development and testing.

@ThingsExpo Stories
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Technology is enabling a new approach to collecting and using data. This approach, commonly referred to as the "Internet of Things" (IoT), enables businesses to use real-time data from all sorts of things including machines, devices and sensors to make better decisions, improve customer service, and lower the risk in the creation of new revenue opportunities. In his General Session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Dave Wagstaff, Vice President and Chief Architect at BSQUARE Corporation, discuss the real benefits to focus on, how to understand the requirements of a successful solution, the flow of ...
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
We’re no longer looking to the future for the IoT wave. It’s no longer a distant dream but a reality that has arrived. It’s now time to make sure the industry is in alignment to meet the IoT growing pains – cooperate and collaborate as well as innovate. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, will examine the key ingredients to IoT success and identify solutions to challenges the industry is facing. The deep industry expertise behind this presentation will provide attendees with a leading edge view of rapidly emerging IoT oppor...
In this Women in Technology Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Anne Plese, Senior Consultant, Cloud Product Marketing at Verizon Enterprise, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO at MetraTech; Evelyn de Souza, Data Privacy and Compliance Strategy Leader at Cisco Systems; Seema Jethani, Director of Product Management at Basho Technologies; Victoria Livschitz, CEO of Qubell Inc.; Anne Hungate, Senior Director of Software Quality at DIRECTV, discussed what path they took to find their spot within the technology industry and how do they see opportunities for other women in their area of expertise.
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, data security and privacy.
Wearable devices have come of age. The primary applications of wearables so far have been "the Quantified Self" or the tracking of one's fitness and health status. We propose the evolution of wearables into social and emotional communication devices. Our BE(tm) sensor uses light to visualize the skin conductance response. Our sensors are very inexpensive and can be massively distributed to audiences or groups of any size, in order to gauge reactions to performances, video, or any kind of presentation. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Jocelyn Scheirer, CEO & Founder of Bionolux, will discuss ho...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

Building low-cost wearable devices can enhance the quality of our lives. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Sai Yamanoor, Embedded Software Engineer at Altschool, provided an example of putting together a small keychain within a $50 budget that educates the user about the air quality in their surroundings. He also provided examples such as building a wearable device that provides transit or recreational information. He then reviewed the resources available to build wearable devices at home including open source hardware, the raw materials required and the options available to power s...
The Internet of Things promises to transform businesses (and lives), but navigating the business and technical path to success can be difficult to understand. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, demonstrated how to approach creating broadly successful connected customer solutions using real world business transformation studies including New England BioLabs and more.
Since 2008 and for the first time in history, more than half of humans live in urban areas, urging cities to become “smart.” Today, cities can leverage the wide availability of smartphones combined with new technologies such as Beacons or NFC to connect their urban furniture and environment to create citizen-first services that improve transportation, way-finding and information delivery. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Laetitia Gazel-Anthoine, CEO of Connecthings, will focus on successful use cases.
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
"For over 25 years we have been working with a lot of enterprise customers and we have seen how companies create applications. And now that we have moved to cloud computing, mobile, social and the Internet of Things, we see that the market needs a new way of creating applications," stated Jesse Shiah, CEO, President and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
The industrial software market has treated data with the mentality of “collect everything now, worry about how to use it later.” We now find ourselves buried in data, with the pervasive connectivity of the (Industrial) Internet of Things only piling on more numbers. There’s too much data and not enough information. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Bob Gates, Global Marketing Director, GE’s Intelligent Platforms business, to discuss how realizing the power of IoT, software developers are now focused on understanding how industrial data can create intelligence for industrial operations. Imagine ...