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1 Complex IT Laboratories for Distance Learning using Virtualisation Adrian Winckles Senior Lecturer in Computing Dept of.

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1 1 Complex IT Laboratories for Distance Learning using Virtualisation Adrian Winckles Senior Lecturer in Computing Dept of Computing & Technology 25 th June 2012

2 2 Before we start!! Has anyone used virtualisation technology or have an idea what it is….

3 3 Virtual Desktops Ability to access a traditional computer desktop from anywhere regardless of the type of computing platform being used…

4 4 Anglia Remote Desktop Anglia Remote/Virtual Desktop Allows thin client version of Windows 7 desktop to be run on PC, MAC and Tablet formats Essentially the operating system is run on a central computer and keyboard, video and mouse signals are sent across the Internet….

5 5 This provides the basis of what this Learning & Teaching Project is all about except… –Not just one virtual desktop –A whole laboratory of virtual desktops –Arranged in specific configurations

6 6 Background Trend towards some students opting to go to their nearest university (<60 miles) Technology based courses traditionally have higher lab content and more lectures hence higher costs Traditionally such courses taught on site and have not been candidates for distance learning.

7 7 Background (contd) Many groups under the widening participation umbrella who might benefit from distance learning often dont access to technology courses. Part-time students also need flexibility as and when to attend university especially where labs are required for coursework or assessment. Distance learning options can improve student retention, satisfaction and engagement.

8 8 Aims & Objectives To develop a completely new sample distance learning based module that can be delivered at any of our regional or franchise partners irrespective of time zone or geographical location. To trial delivery as an additional course or ILM based resource with a minimum of 2 partners (ideally one regional and one international) to assess the impact and practicalities of traditionally resource intensive modules delivered entirely delivered by distance learning using a virtual lab system. Specific resources will need to be targeted towards support and mainteneance.

9 9 Longer Term Aims Continuing long term goal of developing a part time distance learning BSc Computer Science as well as leading a contribution to developing distance learning aspects for Masters & Foundation Degrees

10 10 What is a Laboratory ? Oxford English Dictionary definition: –A laboratory is a room or building for scientific experiments, research, or teaching, or for the manufacture of drugs or chemicals.

11 11 Computing Labs According to (Machotka, J., Nedic, Z., Gol, O., 2007). –Computer Science labs require students to have access to equipment like networked computers, servers, routers, switches and specific software applications so that the teaching process can be as productive, fruitful and realistic as possible

12 12 Limitations of Traditional Computing Labs Traditionally the ONLY way to teach practical Computer Science/Engineering Limitations included:- –Time and space restrictions –Supervision required –High maintenance costs –Scheduling activities common to many colleges/univeristies

13 13 The Virtual Laboratory Often badged with remote labs but has a definition all of its own –any local computer hosting a simulation is considered a virtual lab Leitner & Cane (2005) Term can be extended further to include –a computational grid, used for solving computational problems with geographically distant resources.

14 14 Growth of Virtualization for Labs Virtualization is most popular choice for delivering quality distance teaching. Many different implementations and technologies Often used to teach –Different operating system concepts and application configuration –Integrating diverse systems –Configuring network All without being on campus……

15 15 Virtualization - Definition Encourages portability Definitions –to create abstract computer resources which are only virtual software versions of something rather than really existent (Michocka, D., Shwartsman, S., 2008). –virtualization enables one server or computer to act as many. (Robb, D., 2008) –Instead of keeping your important programs on separate servers so that if one application or server fails, the other applications arent affected, virtualization software lets you run many applications on the same server. (Robb, D. 2008)

16 16 Physical Hardware

17 17 Traditional Computer The physical machinery of computers is called hardware. The programs that run on them (Windows, games, etc.) is software.

18 18 Extending Existing Hardware The hypervisor is software that allows you to create virtual desktops/machines. That is, instead of buying (for example) 10 computers to do different tasks and have most of them have unused memory and processor power, you buy one or two really beefy computers and run hypervisors That allows you to create a virtual machine in software, so hardware because each virtual machine only uses the resources it needs, leaving the rest for the other virtual machines

19 19 Many to One (Virtual Machines) The hardware is like a closet. You can build a big closet or a small closet or a medium closet, but each closet holds a finite amount of stuff. Software is the stuff you put in the closet clothes, shoes, linens, etc. You can dump a bunch of stuff into a big closet, but doing so makes it cluttered and hard to use. If multiple smaller closets are used, youre wasting space because you probably wont fill every one exactly.

20 20 Any hardware platform Virtualisation is like a closet organizer system. You can add a clothing rod here to hang dresses and blouses on, and underneath that add a shelf or two for shoes, while to the side you have more shelves for pants and towels and other stuff. You waste a little bit of your closet space for the organizer, but you keep everything organized and clutter-free, which means youre better off and take less time to keep everything up.

21 21 Complex IT Laboratories In essence this means more than one usable virtual machine or virtual desktop Needs to have a minimum of 2 networked together to provide some form of IT function. Could be much more complicated. Aim is to provide functionality to offer this as a remote distance learning tool in the most beneficial way for the students learning experience whilst maintaining state of the art equipment and the use of relevant scenarios.

22 22 Complex IT Laboratories In a physical lab to set up many of these configurations, lots of physical machines are needed (space and physical storage requirements considerable) In a physical computer lab with virtualisation, can build the scenarios but the problem is with storing the data.

23 23 Solution Virtual Laboratories –Also termed in the new cloud paradigm –Lab as a Service - LaaS Offering remote access to virtual resources which can be created/deleted as required. Virtual images could be stored for student progression or reverted to previously stored states.

24 24 Simple Remote Laboratories Simple Remote Lab could offer differing virtual desktops based on module/pathway etc Think of this as two different closet organisers in different rooms where you have to walk between, find and coordinate the clothes yourself. Could create two instances of different virtual desktop and have them interact together. Requires user to maintain connectivity and interactions Virtual Computer Lab (VCL)

25 25 Hybrid Solution Team of virtual machines available on a desktop platform (which could be virtualised itself) Performance issues as everything has been virtualised twice. Think of this as a closet organiser within a closet organiser where you have to go through two different sets of organisation to find the clothes so everything becomes much slower. Other issues with maintaining state are similar having to remember which clothes went where.

26 26 Complex Virtual Lab Each computing element is accessed via a web front end. Each component can only access others connected to its group. Effectively this like a locked single access to a group of closet organiser to which you have a key and your own private inventory so you know where everything is. Completely secure (sandboxed) from other operational environments. Netlab (opposite)

27 27 Issues Persistence – maintaining the state of the learners experience with the virtual laboratory i.e. letting the student carry on where they left off, saving the state. –Keeping a record of where clothes have been moved to for the next time you visit. Snap Shots – the state of the laboratory is not saved, its reverts at the end of the session to a previous template. –Making sure clothes go back exactly to where they were stored before and in exactly the same condition

28 28 Methodology Two Experimental Approaches –Investigation of an Open Source Apache Virtual Computing Laboratory (VCL) in a network distributed environment for commissioning of reusable operating resources, providing a cloud computing based solution for network security laboratory teaching scenarios. –Use of a proprietary off the shelf remote laboratory systems such as NDGs Netlab to offer complex IT systems such as VMware VSphere courses which can be easily deployed as virtual based solutions on demand.

29 29 Students kept a log book of lab exercises and support issues whilst undertaking complex labs Students kept a log of how both persistence and snap shots affected their ability to use the labs effectively. Post testing questionnaire was also completed. Beta Testing

30 30 Conclusions Both VCL and Netlab solutions are capable of delivering an automated and self-maintained virtualised remote computing environment to cater for students need with very little ongoing administration. –Whilst VCL provides a highly scalable, flexible and very cost effective solution, it is limited in the complexity of the solutions potentially offered. –Netlab provides a more managed solution better able to provide the complexity and flexibility that more advanced computer science courses may require. Volume License costing could be an issue.

31 31 Future Work Development of the open source model Development of external resources using cloud technologies Development of open source VCL solution using secure groups for commissioning/decommissioning of multiple virtual desktops.

32 32 Credits Border, C The development and deployment of a multi-user, remote access virtualization system for networking, security, and system administration classes. [internet] Available at: Fisher, K., Thacher, Cl., 2009, Virtualization: What does it mean for SAS®? [internet] Available at: Leitner, L. J. and Cane, J. W A virtual laboratory environment for online IT education [internet] Available at: D= &CFTOKEN= # Machotka, J., Nedic, Z., Gol, O., 2007, Collaborative Learning in the Remote Laboratory NetLab [internet] Available at: Mihocka, D., Shwartsman, S., 2008 Virtualization Without Direct Execution or Jitting: Designing a Portable Virtual Machine Infrastructure [internet] Available at: Nedic, Z., Machotka, J, Nafalski, A., 2003, Remote Laboratories Versus Virtual and Real Laboratories, [internet] Available at: 0CNF/ pdf Robb, D. 2008, What Virtualization Means for Small Business [internet] Available at:

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