Students will have access to biology, business, health sciences and other software applications wherever they are using their laptops, tablets or other devices instead of visiting campus computer labs, thanks to technology being introduced this fall.
Under an initiative led by the Information Technology
staff, students in Biological Sciences, the Manning School of Business and the College of Health Sciences will have around-the-clock access to software used for everything from molecular modeling to crunching statistics to DNA sequencing, applications that had previously been available only in department computer labs. Some computers in the Centers for Learning
and the O’Leary Library will also offer access to the lab software so students can log in from those locations, too.
The project, known as vLabs
, relies on virtualization technology, which optimizes computing resources by allowing different operating systems and applications to run on a single host computer. With desktop virtualization, the applications run on servers in the University’s data center and do not need to be loaded on each lab computer.
“Students will not have to leave their residence halls to access the applications they need,” says Michael Cipriano, the University’s chief information officer.
UMass Lowell is piloting the software for the entire UMass system, says Cipriano. He expects to expand the project to additional academic and administrative applications in January.
“This will bring about a shift in how applications are delivered and let students work when and where they want, not when and where the labs are open,” says Steve Athanas, director of systems engineering.
In addition, software management will be streamlined since lab administrators will not have to upgrade or troubleshoot individual machines. It will also offer significant energy-savings, with the amount of electricity required to power lab computers reduced by as much as 90 percent. And since the applications are hosted on powerful servers, performance will get a considerable boost, says Athanas. For example, it will take nursing students just 15 seconds to log into a session on the virtual desktop, down from a few minutes that they wait in the lab.
In all, about 30 different applications will be available through the virtual desktop project, including standard software like Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop.
Looking ahead, Athanas expects with the expansion of the vLabs initiative, all students, faculty and staff will be able to get quick access to a variety of applications by logging in with their own computing devices, no matter where they are.