VCL - Virtual Computer Lab

VCL Pilot with Engineering

VCL Description:

Virtual Computing Lab (VCL) a free & open-source cloud computing platform with the primary goal of delivering dedicated, custom compute environments to users. VCL will allow students to access university-licensed computer applications via the Internet. VCL allows you to work on a lab computer from home or any location with a high-speed Internet connection

Objectives of the Pilot:

  1. Proving VCL will meet the objectives set out by C&C on a larger role out
  2. Test performance and usability of VCL
  3. Students to start using VCL by the start of the Fall semester
  4. Test VLC's software management capability
  5. Provide a cohort of mechanical engineering student’s access to software on their own devices at home and within the mechanical engineering lab (en3000)

Costs of Pilot:

Licenses (Estimate cost: $0)

  • Try to keep licenses to Engineering site licenses, MS Spark Academic licenses and open source software.

Staffing (Estimate cost: C&C: 9 Days, Engineering 4 Days)

  • C&C will host the VCL Server
  • C&C and Engineering will work on configuration VLC on the Server
  • C&C will integrate LDAP, configure reporting
  • Engineering will configure images for Mechanical Engineering students.
  • C&C expertise in networking may be required if bandwidth slows loading of images
  • User support will be provided by Engineering for the Pilot
  • C&C: Organizing student testing on specific VCL features

Server Requirements (Estimate cost: $1500)

Virtual Server
Ideally Core2 duo
64 gb ram (8 concurrent users @ 8 gb each)
Several fast raid configured disk to total 400 gb of space ( 8 concurrent users)

Note: Upgrading of access points around Mechanical Lab may be necessary to increase bandwidth.

Pilot Description:

Duration: The pilot will run for the Fall 2013 semester (Sept 04 - Dec 18)

Participants: Senior year of Mechanical Engineering (~15 students)

Where: Senior Mechanical Lab (en3000) & at students’ homes

Platform: Virtual Computing Lab (VCL)

OS Supported: Windows 7 64bit images

Software supported: Solidworks, Open Source Office Suite, and Autocad

Authentication: Authentication against Memorial’s LDAP will be a priority . If we cannot integrate VCL with Memorial’s LDAP in time for the pilot, passwords will be issued to the students.

Note :VCL does not support CAS out of the box, however universities have created code that allow for CAS, but has yet to be integrated into VCL. Contact has been made with a school (i.e. Marist College) that uses CAS.

Access to VCL: We will use stand alone web page for the pilot. Integration into the Portal will follow after the pilot.

Data storage: Use labnet (via Nomad/RDB) to allow students to save files. Note: Mounting of Google drive will also be explored to see if it can be integrated into the next phase of the VCL project.

Communication: Create a support webpage and demonstrate/present to students early on in the semester.

Support: Engineering staff will handle student support issues. Engineering staff will report issues to the Service Desk via a mailing list. This will be then entered into the Remedy system. A monthly Remedy Report will be generated and sent to the pilot team members.

Testing VCL features: In addition to the main mechanical engineering image, a basic test image will be created. This image will allow the testing of the following features:

    • Creation of user groups within VCL
    • Restrictive access to individual images within groups. For example, allowing the senior engineering lab to see only their images.
    • Creating pre-scheduled times for batch imaging
    • User priorities for images
    • Restricting the number of concurrent images available at specific times
    • Testing performance of VCL in informal learning spaces (e.g. Science Lobby, UC, Business Atrium, Arts and Admin social space)
    • Testing VLC on tablets and other mobile devices.
    • Rendering of images on Linux, Macs and Window (Vista, Win 7 & 8)

Imaging testing can be completed by Student Computing Staff at the Commons by incorporating testing into their weekly challenges that they are required to do.

Measures of pilot’s success:

    • How often VCL is being used by Mech Engineering Students
    • Compliance of test features & pilot objectives
    • Student opinions of VCL from the survey
    • Usage of VCL off campus - At least half of the engineering students that have an internet connection using VCL at home
    • Stability of VCL, 95% of images being rendered successfully
    • Number of calls to service desk
    • Complexity and time to build VCL images
    • Ability for VCL to work with existing bandwidth limits

The pilot and C&C’s objectives for VCL

While the pilot has a narrowed focus it will help us understand if VCL will meet C&C objectives of a campus wide virtual computing lab environment. The following explains how participating in the pilot will help us with C&C’s objectives for VCL.

Starting the pilot will move forward the objective of “Responding to the Needs of Students”. The pilot will allow us to work though many first time issues faced with a new product. This will help minimize problems on a large scale deployment. At the end of the Pilot we will have a working VCL environment that can easily be deployed to a wider student base. In addition, by surveying the pilot group we will have some insight on how to improve usability of the system.

From conversations with Engineering we know that students have requested lab software on their computers so they can work at home or in other places around the universities. Where and when they use VCL will help us understand our objective of “Supporting Non-Traditional Learners”. These non-traditional learners will be using VCL off campus. The pilot will allow us to get some idea on VCL performance off campus.

How students will use VCL in the pilot depends on how they work, and which devices they work on. The pilot also will allow us to test some of the features that the Engineering students may not use. Having students test specific feature such using VCL on mobile devices and around specific areas on campus will help us understand if VCL can meet the objectives of Supporting Mobility and Supporting Collaborative/Informal Learning Spaces.

Engineering students will be using VCL to render software in and outside of classroom. During lab time a VCL image can be bookout for use by the professor. This block allocation will allow professors to make available an image at a specific time to a specific group of uses. This type of activity will demonstrate how VCL can “Provide Electronic Classroom Management” which is one of C&C objectives for VCL. The main reason that Engineering needs a VCLE solution is to allow students access to software in a controlled environment. By controlling concurrent users and who has access to specific software we will have a good idea as to how VCL will be able to manage software. This help us understand if VCL can achieve the objective of “Streamlining software management across campus”.

The last objective is Freeing up Lab Space. While the pilot does not directly address this issue, it will lead to a larger scale rollout of VCL which will eventually lead to a reduction of the computer lab footprint at Memorial.


For further information contact:

Barbara Dawson, Associate Director - Client Relationships
Computing and Communications
Phone: (709) 864-4587