Use Desktop as a Service to Create a Push-button Learning Lab

  • June 03, 2015

Desktop as a Service (DaaS), or desktop virtualization, is catching on as a way to further save on CAPEX. The reality for most large organizations is that many DaaS offerings are limited as their ability to handle workloads and the strategy must be considered on a case-by-case basis. We found just such a case: on-demand learning labs for training departments or organizations.

Flux7 recently helped a technology enterprise establish cloud infrastructure and implement an easy-to-use, on-demand Desktop as a Service solution for their training group. In addition to helping them reduce CAPEX, soft costs such as maintenance and setup time were expected to be lowered as well.

The case for cloud-based training environments

Many healthcare, energy and utility companies, universities and other organizations provide regular training that requires a specific set of applications and configuration. The choice often has been between purchasing and maintaining hardware for training that is infrequently used, or relying on trainees to implement and configure software properly in advance or during training sessions. Both are fraught with inefficiencies and the potential for inconsistent configurations.

Desktop as a Service or desktop virtualization offers trainers the ability to configure a set up once and provide trainees with one-click set-up, dramatically improving the efficiency and quality, and reducing costs of training.

Turning on/off servers

A key feature of the system we produced for our customer is the ability to help them save costs by allowing the instructors to stop their students’ Amazon EC2 instances without data loss when training is not in session. By turning servers off at night, for example, the organization reduces the overall cost of training. Servers can be resumed when training is back in session. Students have a similar control to start/stop instances provisioned for their use.

Pre-defined access levels

At the heart of the system is an API server that acts as a gateway between the Drupal-based dashboard that the trainers and trainees use to control the system.

Depending on their privileges, users see different choice:

  • Administrators have the ability to create/delete virtual classrooms and specify, make changes as the instructor prefers.
  • Instructors have the ability to start a “golden server” by spawning a base-server in AWS EC2 and installing the software that they would like for their students to have access to during the lab.
  • Instructors have the ability to give users the option to upload files to a specific folder in their golden server and create servers for students by uploading a roster.
  • All of the student servers start as replicas of the golden image that the instructor created. In addition to the initial setup, instructors can continue to push changes to student servers on the fly as the course progresses.
  • Students can login and download a credentials file they can use from any trusted corporate computer to login to the server that their instructor has created for them.

EZ buttons

Push-button environments are part of the automation that organizations can implement to realize the value of infrastructure services. By freeing non-IT audiences to gain controlled access to what has been traditionally IT services, agility is achieved across the organization. On-demand learning labs also help scale training easily, both up and down, and adjust resources dynamically to meet performance needs. In addition to routine training, this model may be of use in seasonal workforce, mergers, acquisitions, partnerships and short-term collaborations.

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