Case study: University of Wollongong to solve data sharing woes

Drops Dropbox and joins trial of VMware's Horizon Suite

A look at VMware's new Horizon Suite. Credit: VMware

A look at VMware's new Horizon Suite. Credit: VMware

The University of Wollongong may soon enable thousands of students and staff to securely share information across many devices, following its decision to join a trial of VMware's new Horizon Suite.

VMware's latest suite of virtualization tools enables the university's administrators to deploy applications and data to multiple devices. The university has 25,000 students and 2,500 staff and students bring a variety of devices into the classroom, including laptops and Apple iOS, Android and Windows mobile devices.

The UoW is one of a half dozen Australian organisations to participate in a beta trial of VMware Horizon Suite, which VMware expects to release this quarter. The suite updates existing products and adds Workspace, a cloud-based workspace providing access to enterprise apps and desktops across many devices.

Daniel Saffioti, deputy director of IT services at the university, said collaboration is key to the education community.

“Across our business, there is this desire to want to collaborate at an unprecedented level,” he said. “We have a lot of users craving for tools like Dropbox, and that brings in itself a number of challenges for the business.”

Dropbox came with many issues related to security and data ownership, he said. “Depending upon what they are doing it may or may not be suited.”

A big reason that the university decided to join the VMware trial was because it realised “the need to manage data [and] the need to share data was high,” Saffioti said.

For example, the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, a partnership between the university and medical practitioners, required a way to collaborate between people inside and outside the organisation, he said.

A VPN approach seemed “too hard,” while an open source method appeared “somewhat clunky,” he said. Finally, the university tried VMware Horizon.

“We presented it at UoW as ‘not Dropbox,’” Saffioti said. “Our folks loved it.”

UoW also has 400 virtual machines (VMs) and “an insatiable appetite for more,” Saffioti said. “Our users are constantly coming up with great ideas, experiments, things they want to do that require provision of this infrastructure.”

“More often than not though, our community would like to be able to do things on their own terms,” he said. “They’d like to rock up and create a VM. They’d like to use it whenever, wherever they want, on any device they want.”

Feedback was especially good on Horizon’s revision control and collaboration features, integration with the rest of their data, and being able to use it on any device or platform, Saffioti said. “What they particularly like is no more VPN.”

Saffioti praised the security of the system. “We can guarantee reasonable security of the system and its data.”

Also, Horizon unifies disparate VMs into a “one stop shop,” he said.

Saffioti added that he was especially impressed with the platforms ability to render a virtualized desktop.

“It’s amazing how in a modern HTML5 browser, we can present a desktop [with] accelerated graphics performance in the 3D space,” he said.

While the trial went well, Saffioti said the university hasn’t made the final decision to buy Horizon. “We think it’s a good platform” and “a viable solution, but we’ve got to go through a process and time will tell.”

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