ANU scales up virtual desktops for 20,000 students in two weeks

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ANU scales up virtual desktops for 20,000 students in two weeks

Makes over 80 core apps available remotely.

The Australian National University has ramped up its remote teaching capabilities by deploying a new virtual desktop infrastructure as a service (VDIaaS) capability to around 20,000 students in the space of only two weeks.

The Virtual Information Commons, as it’s called within the university, was provided by AUCloud and is based on VMWare’s Horizon 7 application.

Deployed with AUCloud’s partner, Insitec, the Virtual Information Commons makes more than 80 core applications available to students and staff on both Windows and Mac devices to enable remote teaching and research during campus closures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

It provides access and functionality as close as possible to what users would experience on campus while ensuring the same level of security by adhering to the Australian Signals Directorate’s Information Security Manual’s controls for data classifications at Official, Official:Sensitive and Protected levels.

The rapid development of the commons was enabled by using Cisco's Unified Compute System platform as the underlying infrastructure, which lets providers like AUCloud quickly scale up services.

Aside from enabling curriculum continuity in the lead up to the end-of-semester exams, the VDIaaS paves the way for ANU to make potentially hundreds of apps available for remote use to any number of staff and students depending on demand.

Service levels can also be tailored for users on different curricula, minimising lag for resource-intensive courses.

It marks a turning point for the university’s response to the coronavirus closures, which the ANU Students Association originally slammed as being so poor in quality that fees should be slashed or refunded.

Students were also wary of ANU’s decision to commit to online exams and invigilation due to the increased risk of privacy, security and usability issues.

The university has been careful to highlight in its announcements that solutions deployed in the wake of the campus closures adhere to strict cyber security guidelines, following two high-profile security breaches identified in the last two years.

As with the remote exam monitoring software, the data from the VDIaaS is set to be kept in Australian cloud regions.

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