Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: XebiaLabs Blog, William Schmarzo, Teridion Blog, Moshe Kranc, Elizabeth White

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
"delaPlex is a software development company. We do team-based outsourcing development," explained Mark Rivers, COO and Co-founder of delaPlex Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
ReadyTalk has expanded the capabilities of the FoxDen collaboration platform announced late last year to include FoxDen Connect, an in-room video collaboration experience that launches with a single touch. With FoxDen Connect, users can now not only engage in HD video conferencing between iOS and Android mobile devices or Chrome browsers, but also set up in-person meeting rooms for video interactions. A host’s mobile device automatically recognizes the presence of a meeting room via beacon tech...
On Dice.com, the number of job postings asking for skill in Amazon Web Services increased 76 percent between June 2015 and June 2016. Salesforce.com saw its own skill mentions increase 37 percent, while DevOps and Cloud rose 35 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Even as they expand their presence in the cloud, companies are also looking for tech professionals who can manage projects, crunch data, and figure out how to make systems run more autonomously. Mentions of ‘data science’ as a skill ...
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Venafi, the Immune System for the Internet™ and the leading provider of Next Generation Trust Protection, will exhibit at @DevOpsSummit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Venafi is the Immune System for the Internet™ that protects the foundation of all cybersecurity – cryptographic keys and digital certificates – so they can’t be misused by bad guys in attacks...
There will be new vendors providing applications, middleware, and connected devices to support the thriving IoT ecosystem. This essentially means that electronic device manufacturers will also be in the software business. Many will be new to building embedded software or robust software. This creates an increased importance on software quality, particularly within the Industrial Internet of Things where business-critical applications are becoming dependent on products controlled by software. Qua...
In addition to all the benefits, IoT is also bringing new kind of customer experience challenges - cars that unlock themselves, thermostats turning houses into saunas and baby video monitors broadcasting over the internet. This list can only increase because while IoT services should be intuitive and simple to use, the delivery ecosystem is a myriad of potential problems as IoT explodes complexity. So finding a performance issue is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Machine Learning helps make complex systems more efficient. By applying advanced Machine Learning techniques such as Cognitive Fingerprinting, wind project operators can utilize these tools to learn from collected data, detect regular patterns, and optimize their own operations. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Stuart Gillen, Director of Business Development at SparkCognition, discussed how research has demonstrated the value of Machine Learning in delivering next generation analytics to imp...
The 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Digital Transformation, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportuni...
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, demonstrated how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and shared the must-have mindsets for removing complexity from the develo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MangoApps provides modern company intranets and team collaboration software, allowing workers to stay connected and productive from anywhere in the world and from any device.
Large scale deployments present unique planning challenges, system commissioning hurdles between IT and OT and demand careful system hand-off orchestration. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Smith, Senior Director and a founding member of Incenergy, will discuss some of the key tactics to ensure delivery success based on his experience of the last two years deploying Industrial IoT systems across four continents.
Basho Technologies has announced the latest release of Basho Riak TS, version 1.3. Riak TS is an enterprise-grade NoSQL database optimized for Internet of Things (IoT). The open source version enables developers to download the software for free and use it in production as well as make contributions to the code and develop applications around Riak TS. Enhancements to Riak TS make it quick, easy and cost-effective to spin up an instance to test new ideas and build IoT applications. In addition to...
Identity is in everything and customers are looking to their providers to ensure the security of their identities, transactions and data. With the increased reliance on cloud-based services, service providers must build security and trust into their offerings, adding value to customers and improving the user experience. Making identity, security and privacy easy for customers provides a unique advantage over the competition.
"We've discovered that after shows 80% if leads that people get, 80% of the conversations end up on the show floor, meaning people forget about it, people forget who they talk to, people forget that there are actual business opportunities to be had here so we try to help out and keep the conversations going," explained Jeff Mesnik, Founder and President of ContentMX, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"There's a growing demand from users for things to be faster. When you think about all the transactions or interactions users will have with your product and everything that is between those transactions and interactions - what drives us at Catchpoint Systems is the idea to measure that and to analyze it," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York Ci...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 19th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo Silicon Valley Call for Papers is now open.