Scaling Up the Virtual Computer Lab

  • March 17, 2011

Universities are working together and sharing resources to create virtual labs with more powerful computing capabilities--and to save much-needed cash.

By David Raths

Economies of scale. It's one of those phrases bandied around whenever one corporation swallows another. Yet that is exactly what several college systems hope to achieve by having their member campuses collaborate on IT projects. For The California State University, facing $500 million in budget cuts proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, you might even call such projects economies of necessity.

At Cal State, the whole idea dates back to a meeting in 2009, when the CIOs of the 23 CSU campuses agreed to pursue five or six projects with the potential to generate efficiencies for the entire system, rather than individual campuses.

Among the winning projects, not surprisingly, were virtual computing labs (VCL). After all, virtualization has already proved to be a gold-star money saver for colleges and universities in the United States. But Cal State decided to take the concept of virtual labs one step further--by opening the labs up to students and faculty across multiple campuses.

"Schools will really want to take advantage of access to more computing power and getting the best deal for their money," said Lee Thompson, deputy CIO at CSU East Bay and VCL project leader. "The financial crunch is only going to add to our momentum."

Modeled on open source software developed at North Carolina State University, the Cal State VCL project was launched in April 2010, with pilots at CSU East Bay and CSU Northridge. IBM provided consulting help.

Both pilots went well, Thompson said, and the next step is to incorporate two more schools: CSU Chico and CSU Monterey Bay. Instead of adding servers as more schools join, though, Cal State is working on a cloud-based approach with Amazon. "That will provide the computing power to expand considerably," Thompson said, noting that a demonstration of the cloud approach should be ready this spring.

  • Print This Page
  • Bookmark and Share