In the midst of moving 520 workloads into onto Microsoft Azure, Edith Cowan University’s CIO Vito Forte decided to see if the computer science labs could also make the jump.
The choice to move into the cloud was driven by the fact that several hundred students each year pass through various computer science courses at ECU, where a limited number of devices were available for classes and for students to tackle assignments, exams and projects.
The lab also needed to be regularly remodelled, with new, up-to-date content loaded onto the equipment so students could work with industry-standard tools, which kept the IT Faculty under constant pressure to manage and maintain the labs.
Applications would often be manually loaded onto 50 devices at a time to facilitate a lab course.
Forte said on Microsoft’s education blog that the university had initially looked at building the physical infrastructure to host virtual machines as a way of making the management of the lab easier.
“I asked, ‘why are we doing it this way? Why aren’t we taking advantage of the cloud?’”
Since then, the university has established a proof of concept using Azure Lab Services to host a cyber security penetration testing module that could be rolled out to students who could access the module through their usual university sign on from any device.
“We plan to go live in the second semester and really validate the value associated with this,” Forte said.
“At the moment Azure Lab Services is not mandated across the school – but this should be successful and then we would mandate the use of this across that particular School for their courses.”
The larger, university-wide shift away from managed services onto Azure is also scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, Forte added, giving ECU “a lot of capability flexibility” and saving it “a substantial amount of money” over its existing services.
The flexibility of location will be particularly useful to the Western Australian university as it scales up both its local and international operations.
“We are setting up a large campus in Sri Lanka and the majority of the courses are around cyber and computer science.
“What Azure Lab Services does is with minimal to no additional cost or effort we have the ability to scale. If we bought on prem equipment we’d have to buy more on prem equipment in a different country, set it all up, operate it, manage it.”
More broadly, it also lays the groundwork for ECU to build on its data analytics, machine learning and mixed reality capabilities.
“The University does some research in the augmented reality and virtual reality area and we are now trying to see is there value associated at a student learning level.
“Fundamentally it’s about usage and student success. Part of the process here is if we remove the level of friction associated with the student being able to access the materials and things they need to be successful that should show an uptick in the level of success.
“We are doing as much as we can to not be the problem.”