Liquidware Labs Showcases User Virtualization Solution of Choice for Academic Institutions at VMworld 2012

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K12 to Higher Education Institutions give high marks to ProfileUnity FlexApp features, including reliability, ease-of-use and affordability, supporting a smooth transition to virtual desktops.

Some of the other packages we looked at were just overwhelming," said Brian Zimmerman, NWTC. "They were too complex and were very expensive. We really like the fact ProfileUnity doesn’t need to run on its own server.

Liquidware Labs, the leader in desktop transformation solutions, today announced that its product, ProfileUnity FlexApp, is rapidly becoming the user virtualization solution of choice for academic institutions that are making the transition to virtual desktops. The key reasons the solution is rapidly gaining popularity, is a rich feature set that meets academic use cases, ease of installation, no additional investment in backend systems and an affordable price point that is in line with strict budgets. Liquidware Labs will demonstrate the latest version of ProfileUnity FlexApp with the newest feature, Department Installed Applications (DIA) at its Booth #2536 at VMworld San Francisco, August 26th through August 29, 2012.

According to David Bieneman, CEO of Liquidware Labs, academic institutions are at the forefront of virtual desktop adoption, driven there by the demand to deliver more services to students and faculty, across diverse heterogeneous systems, multiple devices and locations, while expected to remain within budget and leverage their existing systems and processes. Liquidware Labs solutions are used by a growing number of education organizations to transform their current desktop strategy from a one- to- one physically constrained desktop system, to an elastic virtual environment.

“Desktop virtualization is proving to be a real paradigm changer for academic institutions who want to ensure students have constant access to learning resources for the best quality educational experience,” said Bieneman. “Higher education IT staff know their physical desktops are notoriously inefficient at supporting this service level and are eagerly researching virtualization alternatives.”

Recognizing that user experience is more than just desktop management or performance monitoring alone, Liquidware Labs delivers user persona and application portability across multiple devices and operating systems with ProfileUnity FlexApp and the visibility to validate the user experience / performance with Stratusphere UX.

Liquidware Labs provides a one-stop-shop approach that is compatible with Citrix®, VMware® and physical desktops, which resonates with educational institutions that want to simplify administration of their heterogeneous and highly dynamic environments.

At the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), Steve Vieira, Chief Information Officer and Executive Director of IT, explains that the driving force for change was to expand access to learning resources for their student population. CCRI is the state’s only public comprehensive associate degree-granting institution. Its four main campuses and two secondary campuses serve 18,000 students, who represent considerable diversity in ages, cultures and experience.    Sixty-one percent of CCRI students are women, 66 percent are part-time, 29 percent are from an ethnic minority group and 40 percent are 25 or older.

“A lot of our students hold down one or more jobs while attending classes. We know they are often completing assignments in the wee hours of the morning when our facilities are closed,” said Vieira. “We recognized that it was absolutely necessary to find a secure way to allow students to access these resources through their desktops, anytime and anywhere they needed.”

CCRI worked closely with Liquidware Labs’ partner Envision Technology Advisors (http://www.envisionsuccess.net/), which is headquartered in Rhode Island and provides comprehensive technology solutions to clients. CCRI implemented non-persistent desktops running on VMware View and included ProfileUnity with FlexApp right from the start, based on recommendations from Envision to add personalization and user profile management.
"When we began investigating desktop virtualization, we were very concerned about the user experience,” said Vieira. “I did a lot of research, and I saw that the VDI deployments that were successful were the ones that paid a lot of attention to the user experience."

ProfileUnity with FlexApp enabled Vieira to meet one of his key goals -- that students not notice the transition to virtual desktops. Because ProfileUnity harvested profiles from existing physical desktops and preserved screensavers, preferences, browser bookmarks, access to files, and managed printer resources, CCRI students’ experience was uncompromised during the changeover.

“It was very critical for us to get it right the first time; there was no other option. This is why we reached out to Envision from the start,” said Vieira. “They have a proven track record in deploying desktop virtualization projects, and I would tell any other educational organization that they absolutely need to go down this path with an experienced provider who knows how all the infrastructure – software, hardware, storage, network – needs to comes together in order to be successful.”

These views are echoed by Brian Zimmerman, Systems Engineer at Northern Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) who undertook a desktop virtualization project nearly a year ago. NWTC serves 42,000 students and offers more than 180 degree, certificate and apprenticeship programs across a diverse range of fields that includes accounting, civil engineering, healthcare, renewable energy and much more.

Most programs are designed to be completed in two years or less, which creates significant turnover in the student body, so NWTC IT staff supports an ever-changing and constantly revolving roster of students, systems and applications. NWTC chose Liquidware Labs partner PDS (http://www.pdspc.com), a leading IT integrator headquartered in Wisconsin, to support them through the project.

NWTC’s approximately 1,000 virtual desktops are built on VMware View v5.1 and are all delivered over 10GB Ethernet from HP blade servers on a central NetApp SAN. User profiles and printer resources are managed by Liquidware Labs ProfileUnity with FlexApp which keeps sessions consistent from logon to logon.

“We looked at managing profiles with Microsoft Active Directory right out of the box, but it wasn’t as flexible as we needed, especially for printer management,” said Zimmerman. “Some of the other packages we looked at were just overwhelming. They were too complex and were very expensive. We really like the fact ProfileUnity doesn’t need to run on its own server. And it was easy to integrate with Active Directory. It runs really well from there and requires almost no upkeep.”

Zimmerman is also looking ahead to the time when they will leverage FlexApp to reduce the number of desktop images they need to support. Although NWTC recently went through a review to reduce the number of applications they deliver, they still must support nearly 500 applications for the wide range of curricula they offer. Zimmerman wants to limit the number of master desktop images to a minimum and use FlexApp to “layer” on applications and deliver them to students based on a profile identity tied to their curriculum and where they were in the program.

Another academic institution which successfully transitioned to virtual desktops and is currently reaping the benefits is Phoenix Central School District (PCSD) which also leveraged ProfileUnity with FlexApp with the goal of replacing Roaming Profiles in their desktop environment. PCSD had the opportunity to update its computer labs and network infrastructure at its middle school and high school as part of a capital improvement program. Together, the two schools have 800 HP t610 and t5730 thin client workstations in addition to 300 computer workstations that together serve approximately 1,400 students and 220 faculty and staff.

PCSD’s Director of Technology, Ted Love, worked with Liquidware Labs partner TERACAI on the implementation. Headquartered in New York, TERACAI Corporation, (http://www.teracai.com) focuses on delivering virtualization and data center solutions to clients.

“When we started, I assumed we could use the Microsoft tools to manage the virtual desktops the same way we managed our physical PCs. That was a lesson we learned the hard way,” said Love. “The Microsoft tools did not allow us to set virtual desktop access to specific printers based on the lab the student was working in. Also, the Group Policy tools were too blunt of an instrument for what we wanted to do.”

Love also wanted an alternative to Microsoft’s Roaming Profiles. Even on physical desktops, they were the source of long login times for students and were subject to profile corruption. Once PSCD moved to virtual desktops, it only exacerbated their profile management and login issues. The majority of their students logged in at the same time during class periods, causing ‘login storms’ and insupportable login delays.

“Classroom time is essential for teachers,” said Love. “It was not acceptable to lose significant class time while waiting for students to be able to log in and begin working.”

According to Love, ProfileUnity is infinitely configurable and an initial challenge was to find the best approach for what PSCD wanted to accomplish. But with great tech support from both TERACAI and Liquidware Labs, the solution has become a real time saver. Love estimates the amount of time that the IT staff needs to spend on desktop support has been cut in half. “We’re now much more proactive in the things we’re doing. We’re building new solutions instead of fixing problems,” said Love. “That is good for our district and for our IT staff. Leveraging user virtualization for our desktops has proven to be a very rewarding experience.”

For those attending VMworld 2012 in San Francisco, demos of the latest version ProfileUnity FlexApp and the complete Stratusphere line of products can be seen at Liquidware Labs Booth #2536.

About Liquidware Labs
Liquidware Labs™ is the leader in desktop transformation solutions for next-generation physical and virtual desktops. The company's Stratusphere™ and ProfileUnity™ solutions have been described by analysts as the industry's first 'On-Ramp to VDI,' providing a complete methodology and software that enables organizations to decouple users and applications from the operating system and to cost-effectively assess, design, migrate and validate the user experience for next-generation desktop infrastructures. Liquidware Labs products are VMware and Citrix certified, and are available through a global network of partners. Visit http://www.liquidwarelabs.com for further information.

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Grace Krokidas

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