University of Wollongong dabbles in VMware Horizon

The university trialled the new VMware virtual desktop and data management suite for months, with plans for further deployment across the organisation.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor

The University of Wollongong (UoW) has embraced VMware's new virtual desktop and data management suite after being its guinea pig during the beta testing phase.

VMware launched the Horizon Suite on Thursday, which rolls up Horizon View, Horizon Mirage, and Horizon Workspace, a new application that manages multiple screens in one neat package. Aimed at mobile application management, the Horizon suite supports Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Windows RT and Phone devices. Users can access their desktop environment through a browser on their mobile devices.

"The Horizon suite is designed to be a one-stop shop for managing the end-user device to IT," VMware lead evangelist for end-user computing Ben Goodman said.

UoW was invited to beta test the Horizon Suite prior to launch. The university has numerous campuses spread out across southern NSW, and has around 25,000 students, as well as 2,500 staff.

In recent years, UoW has strived to be in the "top 1 per cent" of universities in Australia, and it was changing the way the institution operated.

"So what does this mean for the technologists in the organisation? The problem with technologists is sometimes, they don't align very well with the aspirations of the organisation," UoW associate professor and head of academic computing services Daniel Saffioti.

"Our job is to create a computing environment that is sustainable and robust from various angles."

Students and staff are increasingly turning up to UoW with different devices and different operating systems, which IT needs to adapt and support to, according to Saffioti.

"At the same time, our business is data intensive and we move forward by putting up great ideas by educating the next generation of leaders," he said. "As a consequence, we need toolsets that allow us to collaborate and work effectively in this space."

On the backend, UoW has a lot of VMs (about 400 of them) with an insatiable appetite for more as users constantly need to test their ideas on this infrastructure. The problem Saffioti faces is how to unify all the disparate virtual machines and manage it from a one-stop shop.

"We think the horizon workspace does that very well, and what we particularly like about horizon workspace is its device and platform agnostic in this era, when people would come in with a different OS devices with various applications," he said.

Users can get a desktop experience straight out of an HTML5 browser with Horizon View, something Saffioti finds particularly impressive.

"It's amazing how in a modern day HTML5 browser, we can present a desktop that can have accelerated graphics performance in the 3D space," he said.

There is also an increasing need to collaborate with others outside of the university, which brings a number of challenges to UoW.

UoW is currently using Horizon for its Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI), which links academic and clinical researchers together to work on common medical issues.

The institute approached the university's IT department to find a way to collaborate with external researchers seamlessly, easily, and securely. The staff at IHMRI deemed setting up a VPN and open source options too complicated to use, so Saffioti proposed the Horizon suite.

"Our folks loved it," he said. "They loved the fact they could collaborate and intertwine with data on other systems, and are able to do that on different devices.

"They particularly liked the fact there was no need for a VPN, and we can guarantee reasonable security of the system and its data."

The university has a few projects up its sleeve, one of which is building a new facility for building industry research, with an emphasis on environmental friendliness.

"What this facility commands from the IT people is efficient and robust computing, so we can't just put conventional PCs on desks and hope everything works," Saffioti said.

Horizon will be something that could be used for supplying computing capabilities to the new building.

"We think the Horizon Suite fits nicely with our initiatives in the sustainable building research centre, as well as into the whole BYOD experience," Saffioti said. "We think it has a place in UoW and other institutions."

Horizon Suite will be available in Q1 of this year, and licences per user start from AU$300.

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