Indiana University's 'Personal Clouds' Address Massive Virtualization Challenges - InformationWeek

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Indiana University's 'Personal Clouds' Address Massive Virtualization Challenges

Citrix selected over VMware for university's 18-month IUAnyWare project to convert its 100,000 end users at eight campuses to using virtualized applications with aim of saving money and delivering better services.

Virtualization of end users en masse, a problem that has resisted solution in many places, is being accomplished at Indiana University with a two-pronged approach. The eight-campus system expects to see 100,000 end users converted to virtualized applications by fall 2012.

Some tentative attempts had previously been underway on a department-by-department basis. Central IT had to step in with a system-wide solution, said Sue Workman, associate VP of support, thereby upending projects that used different choices in vendor and approach.

In doing so, the IT staff borrowed lessons from Apple's approach to--and terminology for--consumers. It called its virtualization initiative "a personal cloud" and dubbed it IUAnyWare. Its centralized approach had to embrace delivering application services to many different devices and locations and plan for end users being frequently on the move.

"This will accomplish one of our strategic goals, to supply abundant resources to our faculty and students," said Workman in an interview. By knowing what application software is being used in what quantity, the state system is more likely to be able to keep it available, keep it upgraded, and acquire it at lower prices than individual colleges and departments could do on their own, she said.

It's not surprising that Indiana University is plunging into end-user virtualization on a large scale. The school is already known as an IT experimenter and an early adopter of server virtualization. In October 2009 it announced that it had virtualized what had been 1,000 physical servers down to 77 virtualized hosts, yielding a 13-1 consolidation ratio. Workman said the IT staff concluded additional gains would come from a centralized approach to end-user virtualization.

Its principal vendor for server consolidation was VMware, and some colleges and departments went ahead and adopted VMware for their initial end-user virtualization attempts. While the school of dentistry chose Citrix, the school of medicine, for example, was proceeding with VMware.

"That approach doesn't scale," said Workman. "We had a prototype environment set up for our assessment," and IT tested the VMware and Citrix alternatives. Citrix was chosen as the system-wide partner.

On June 10, the central IT staff in Bloomington launched its initial conversion and will eventually provide 240 virtualized applications to end users in an Advanced Center for Manufacturing Excellence, a lab that it shares with Purdue and Ivy Tech in Columbus, Ind. (Columbus is the home of Cummins Engine manufacturing.) In a training environment, a few applications running on Citrix XenApp servers with a Citrix Netscaler front end can serve thousands of remote end users at a time.

In general, Workman and her staff have found that standard Windows applications, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, along with Microsoft SharePoint file storage, satisfy 85% of the end users they must serve, with some specialized graphics and statistical analysis packages, such as SPSS, thrown in for good measure.

On the other hand, the medical and dental schools, fields of specialized research, administrator functions, and other niche users all had non-standard software requirements. In other words, the one-size-fits-all approach in the training lab will not work throughout all university settings.

IT's response has been to produce tailored virtualized desktops, each with its own operating system and application set, as needed by specialized users. The desktop still resides on centralized IT servers, like the first group's applications, but they offer more direct processing power, application selection, and customized features. These desktops require four times the storage and CPU per user than the first group, Workman estimates.

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