| 03.18.2018

Cloud-based computing — New program provides university software to students

The University of Idaho Information Technology Services Help Desk, along with Student Computing Services, now offers a software hosting service called VLab to UI students.

VLab is a web interface that provides access to multiple breeds of academic software, ranging from tools for geographical mapping to working with statistics.

Student Computing Services Manager Luke Michelson said VLab is a cost-and-time effective way to handle students’ rising need for advanced software that may be too expensive for them to purchase.

Upon using VLab on your laptop or device, Michelson said you must install the “client,” the Citrix XenApp driver, onto your computer. Michelson said this installment is a one-time process.

“(Citrix) will install everything it needs to, then it will allow you to log in,” Michelson said. “Then, you’ve installed the device that actually communicates with the server.”

Citrix is the middleman between the user of VLab and the university’s main computer server and database. After installing Citrix, the program can run software on the user’s computer directly from the university’s server without installation of any extra software on the user’s personal machine.

Before VLab, each student would have to either utilize an on-campus computer lab or purchase the software and install in on their personal machine themselves. Now, Michelson said students have the freedom to do homework through VLab wherever they can find a wireless connection, and it is available to all full-time students, including Engineering Outreach.

Michelson said dealing with software vendors is one of the biggest challenges ITS faces with the continued development of VLab.

In order to install software on a computer, the software must have appropriate licensing for duplicated use. With VLab, Michelson said licensing is much trickier to figure out. Since VLab has the capability to serve the population at UI — nearly 11,000 students — there must be appropriate licensing to cover legal use.

Michelson said some of VLab’s software licensing doesn’t configure with the parameters of VLab, while others are simply too expensive to purchase and adequately license the thousands of VLab users.

“The software that we can put out there (on VLab) — that we can afford to put out there — we have put out there,” Michelson said. “The others that we can’t, we’re waiting for (the vendor) to catch up to the way the industry is going toward cloud-based computing, and hopefully their licensing model will follow suit — especially for educational institutions, for a more reasonable price.”

VLab is much like an open “technology market,” Michelson said. After students log in to the program’s main page and download the Citrix client, there are icons for each type of software offered.

After selecting which program they would like to run, Citrix retrieves the software information from the university’s main database server and runs it on the user’s machine.

Senior Director of Enterprise Computing Support Chuck Lanham said each type of software will run on the user’s computer as if it were installed on the individual’s machine.

While full-time students from any discipline can utilize VLab, the majority of the programs are geared toward math and statistics students. Michelson said software for mathematics and statistics course work is most likely to be less expensive and have licensing models applicable to VLab.

Lanham said students in all disciplines can find the offered resources helpful for coursework and projects.

“It’s not just math students or engineering students who could use this,” Lanham said, “Graduate students that are doing their research could use some of these statistical tools for the quantitative parts — they could log into VLab and use the packages that they would normally have to go to a lab to use.”

Chloe Rambo can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

More Info

For questions about operating VLab, email the ITS Helpdesk at helpdesk@uidaho.edu. To access VLab and download Citrix, go to http://vlab.uidaho.edu and follow the instructions.


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