Welcome!

Linux Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, John Wetherill, Mike Kavis

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 Noel Wurst

I am the managing content editor at Skytap. Skytap provides SaaS-based dev/test environments to the enterprise. Our solution removes the inefficiencies and constraints that companies have within their software development lifecycle. As a result, our customers release better software faster. My aim is to publish engaging, thought provoking stories that revolve around agile enterprise applications and cloud-based development and testing.

@ThingsExpo Stories
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.
“In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), moderated by Ashar Baig, Research Director, Cloud, at Gigaom Research, Nate Gordon, Director of T...
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...

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...

"BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IDenticard will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IDenticard™ is the security division of Brady Corp (NYSE: BRC), a $1.5 billion manufacturer of identification products. We have small-company values with the strength and stability of a major corporation. IDenticard offers local sales, support and service to our customers across the United States and Canada. Our partner network encompasses some 300 of the world's leading systems integrators and security s...
"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.
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, at more than US$500 billion, and ranks 23rd in the world. A recent re-evaluation of Nigeria's true economic size doubled the previous estimate, and brought it well ahead of South Africa, which is a member (unlike Nigeria) of the G20 club for political as well as economic reasons. Nigeria's economy can be said to be quite diverse from one point of view, but heavily dependent on oil and gas at the same time. Oil and natural gas account for about 15% of Nigera's overall economy, but traditionally represent more than 90% of the country's exports and as...
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...
"At our booth we are showing how to provide trust in the Internet of Things. Trust is where everything starts to become secure and trustworthy. Now with the scaling of the Internet of Things it becomes an interesting question – I've heard numbers from 200 billion devices next year up to a trillion in the next 10 to 15 years," explained Johannes Lintzen, Vice President of Sales at Utimaco, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"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.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your organization should be taking to position itself for the next platform of digital competition.
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.
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group, discussed how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, sensors, social, and ...
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial Cloud.