• May 22, 2024

Virtual Desktop | On Premise, Cloud, or Hybrid: What’s Best for Higher Ed?

Greg M. Smith
  • by Greg M. Smith

On premise, cloud, or hybrid –– what’s the difference and which is the best choice for your virtual desktop solution?

Choosing the right option for your campus is an important decision. And there are a lot of variables –– every department is different, students and faculty want solutions that are easy to use, and you need virtual desktops that are scalable to serve all your students.  

Budgetary constraints and the provider’s reliability are additional considerations. For campuses facing the end of availability in their current virtual desktops, pricing and accessibility may also be top concerns.

In today’s post, we’ll discuss on premise, cloud, and hybrid solutions, plus the benefits of each and how to match your solution with your campuses’ unique needs.

On Premise for Virtual Desktops

“Most universities will have a data center, which is a huge collection of servers that support various needs from running the network locally to running their learning management system,” explained Greg M. Smith, Propeller’s Co-Founder and CEO. 

On premise options allow schools to use the hardware on campus to deliver virtual desktops and virtual labs for students. 

“But it’s the same challenge that you run into if you’re hosting your own environment. It doesn’t necessarily scale,” Greg said.

On premise solutions take a long time to set up, and you don’t necessarily have the latest resources available to you at the click of a button. There are also maintenance considerations for on premise.

You have hardware upgrades, servers to maintain, hard drives that go bad, all those things fall on your IT staff to deal with versus an orchestrated environment in the cloud.

“Underutilized resources still cost money in terms of power and licensing,” added Mohammad Haque, Propeller’s Co-Founder and CTO. “While you might be powering down virtual machines that are not being utilized, you’re likely not able to power off the underlying physical hardware.”

Moving Away from On Premise

Many institutions are moving away from on premise in favor of cloud solutions.

For instance, migrating the data center to AWS was one of the first projects Greg undertook when he worked for the University of Maryland University College (now UMGC) over 10 years ago. 

“We went from five data centers globally, and thousands of machines, to minimal hardware on each site,” Greg said. During the 2016 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, Greg and Mohammad presented Cloud Adoption Strategies: Using the Cloud to Enable the Future University about the process.

For institutions still using on premise for their virtual desktops, the bigger challenge is opening their environment to students outside of the campus environment. Those connections are generally limited. 

When you move to a cloud environment, you have unlimited bandwidth. According to Forbes, more than 70% of college students are interested in online courses –– making sure they can gain access is a priority.

Hybrid Solutions for Virtual Desktops

“Some schools have been surprisingly slow to adopt cloud, but almost all of higher education is at the point where they want to do something,” Greg said.

Hybrid models promote themselves as a way to use both on premise and cloud virtual desktops. 

For institutions that recently invested in building or buying hardware, the promise of hybrid might sound like a good fit. They’re looking for a solution that lets them capitalize on their investment for a few years before they need to start cycling into a new one.

But it’s not the best option. Whether you’re at a large university or a small community college with a limited budget, beta testing cloud virtual desktops gives you more flexibility, a way to encourage faculty buy in, and a large savings of time and resources. 

Take Linn-Benton Community College for example, they were able to overcome technology constraints and solve the problem of legacy hardware with Propeller virtual desktop solutions.

Before making the decision to invest in hybrid, schools need to be aware of the bigger picture. Mohammad explained, “Hybrid clouds are generally more complex in architecture and maintenance — a complexity that can potentially lead to increased costs at the end.”

For campuses that will need to purchase new hardware in the near future, cloud offers a better option both in terms of budget and student accessibility.

Benefits of Cloud Virtual Desktops

We’ve talked at length about the budgetary benefits of virtual desktops, and cloud options are excellent to help schools save on hardware, software, and staff time. 

Cloud offers additional benefits as well:

  • The desktops are available for students when they’re not on campus.
  • There are security benefits attached when the desktops are not in the school’s environment.
  • There’s a scalability benefit because cloud solutions can expand or decrease based on need.

What to Look for in Your Virtual Solution

Flexibility is a key criterion –– you need a solution that can address the needs of various departments. Every school and student body has its own specific needs. Not every department is the same. 

Flexibility and Ease of Use

“Propeller is really easy to set up,” Natalie Montañez, Instruction Technology Supervisor for Research, Teaching, and Learning at UC Berkeley said during a recent EDUCAUSE webinar. “In the past, there was a lot of manual work to have virtual machines set up, for instructors and students, as well as the back-end side.”

Providing the right software, such as applications like SolidWorks, was another major consideration.

“It was simple to reach out to Propeller and say, ‘Hey, can we upgrade this stack a little bit to give them more power?’ That’s something we couldn’t do smoothly before. It’s been nice to offer instructors a turnkey solution.”

Some departments use very advanced or powerful software that students can’t run on their personal machines, unless they work with a virtual desktop. On the other end of the spectrum, many classes may need simple office applications.

“You should be able to size your technical resources based on student use case,” Greg said.

At Propeller, we believe there are peak time periods, and you should be able to buy what you need, when you need it. Rather than paying for the highest use time all the time, your solution should scale so that you have access to everything you need, but only pay for what you use.

Virtual Desktops Made for Education

Propeller virtual desktops and virtual labs offer scalability and access that’s perfect for education because they were designed for education. 

We understand the exact constraints for your budget and staff because we’ve been there. Stop by our ROI Estimator to find out how our solutions will work for your budget, or contact us directly to discuss your school’s specific challenges

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