The University of Arkansas needed to solve the same technological challenges large companies do, but had the ambition to do it in a way that pulled processing back from endpoints for security and manageability, while still serving up graphically robust, PC-like performance. Out-of-the-box solutions were coming up short when they sat down Dell EMC to devise an answer. The resulting VDI implementation project was honored with this year’s Tech Target’s Access Innovation Award as an exceptionally innovative and successful end-user computing project, based on four criteria: ease of use, innovation, functionality and performance, and value.
Director of VDI Ready Solutions at Dell EMC Andrew McDaniel sat down with Jon Kelly and Stephen Herzig and from the University of Arkansas’ IT Services Team recently to discuss the project and celebrate the award.
Andrew McDaniel (AM): When you came to Dell EMC with this VDI project, what challenges were you facing?
University of Arkansas (UA): We have 27,000 students, and we’re classified as a Research 1 University by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, meaning our students engage in extensive research activity. As an IT team, we have an important responsibility to support student learning in a modern way that meets and exceeds the expectations and needs of our students and faculty. When Chris McCoy came on board as CIO, he wanted to leap forward technologically. He set eight technology projects as high priorities for the university to accomplish, and VDI was one of them.
Our challenge was that the campus had been BYOD for quite a while, and students could access some applications from their devices, but the applications that were more particular to a class or curriculum could only be accessed from a specific lab in a specific building. We wanted to level the playing field so students could have anytime, anywhere access to everything they needed for success on any device.
We then recognized that there was a trend toward GPU utilization within the VDI environment. Applications were being written with the assumption that GPU existed.
AM: What were the main objectives you needed to accomplish?
UA: We set the following parameters for our project:
- Students needed to be able to securely access applications anytime, from anywhere, through their own devices.
- The user experience needed to be the same as the student would expect when working on a PC.
- The VDI should be able to run high-end graphics applications like AutoCAD.
AM: After researching vendors, how did you choose Dell EMC and the configuration you ultimately went with: Dell PowerEdge R730 servers, Dell Wyse thin clients, NVIDIA GRID software and the VMware Horizon client?
UA: The ability to deliver a high-quality GPU experience was central to our goals, so we were pleased to discover that NVIDIA’s GRID software for abstracting GPUs would enable us to get the VM density we needed. This had been missing from a previous VDI project we’d rolled out, and it led to a low-quality experience, so NVIDIA’s technology was a key component for us.
On the hardware front, we selected the Dell PowerEdge R730 because it supported two GPUs and 14 core processors to support the fast, crisp experience we wanted to provide. We implemented Dell Wyse thin clients as the access points throughout the campus, and our engineers were able to optimize our software to get login time down to 18 seconds.
The VMware Horizon client made our VDI environment accessible from any device so we can provide BYOD mobile delivery, while the use of hyper-converged appliances with vSAN will enable us to scale in the future.
(Editor’s note: Dell EMC has since formalized this combination of solutions as Dell EMC VDI Complete Solutions, delivering this total package as a service for as low as $7 per user per month and a single point of contact for support.)
AM: Let’s talk about implementation. How did that process go?
UA: VDI implementation is complicated because it touches on all aspects of IT. Dell EMC, VMware and NVIDIA came on site with us to understand the challenges we needed to solve, the varying needs of our different departments, and how they could best help us. Our IT team is strong and deep, so we chose to do much of the work ourselves, but Dell EMC and the other vendors helped and supported us through the process through a single point of contact, which was incredibly helpful.
AM: What about results? Has the project delivered against your goals and expectations?
UA: Yes, it has. We now have the ability to rapidly deploy application pools, allowing us to quickly and efficiently deliver applications to students. That was one of the high-priority challenges we solved with this project.
We have an on-campus game development and visualization studio we call “Tesseract” that is now on the path to delivering learning environments in game format through VDI. And our College of Architecture and Design is now able to centralize its applications and computing power so students can work in their design software on any platform or device.
Our IT team members responsible for maintaining and supporting student lab endpoints are seeing a reduction in resources required to support the labs now that they have VDI endpoints. Support resources are now free to work on more high impact projects and services for the campus.
AM: From your perspective, why do you think this project won the Access Innovation Award?
UA: Deploying VDI on our campus meant pulling together a diverse range of components into a cohesive infrastructure that delivered a high-quality, PC-like experience for students. Dell EMC VDI allowed us to deliver the results we wanted for our students and faculty in a way that was cost effective and easy to manage. The VDI effort also brought together IT resources from across campus, working together in new ways, on a common cutting-edge technology platform – and that was no small feat.
Dell EMC congratulates the University of Arkansas for winning the Access Innovation Award. If you are interested in learning more about how VDI Complete is making high-quality, speedy VDI deployments possible for institutions and organizations across the country, visit https://experience-vmware.com/vdicomplete/.