Apps@UT: Q&A with the University of Tennessee

A Q&A with Wojciech Biernacki, IT systems administrator at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

About University of Tennessee:

  • Enrollment: 27,018 (20,829 undergraduate and 6,189 graduate)
  • Countries represented by UTK students: 100+
  • UT Knoxville is the flagship and largest entity of the UT System, which is governed by a twenty six member Board of Trustees
  • School colors: Orange and white- Go Volunteers!

Question 1: How does the University of Tennessee meet the demands of anywhere, anytime student computing while conserving IT and financial resources?

UT Knoxville continually delivers a high level of IT service— an important factor in sustaining competitiveness and building a successful learning environment by delivering around-the-clock access to applications and data for approximately 27,000 unique users. Just two staff members are responsible for the overall Labs System IT infrastructure, student computing and database servers, as well as mission-critical business and administration systems such as SAP®.

Question 2:  With the growth of personal devices being used all over campus what were your overall IT goals when deploying NetApp?
To help students and instructors access required applications remotely, we wanted to virtualize and stream dozens of applications to thin client and end-user desktops online, supporting our lab users remotely. Essentially, we are transforming dorm rooms, libraries, and common areas into computing labs to allow students to engage in learning whenever and wherever they prefer.

Apps@UT focused on other goals including expanding access to IT resources while reducing overhead; decreasing software licensing costs; and supporting the use of mobile devices for every facet of learning, teaching, and administration. Already, UT Knoxville supports 22,500 varied wireless devices accessing the campus network.

Question 3:  How did the University of Tennessee move toward a unified computing system that enables remote access for the students?
Apps@UT is built on integrated solutions from Citrix, NetApp and Cisco, providing a flexible infrastructure that is validated and optimized to work together. The NetApp Unified Storage Architecture enables UT Knoxville students and staff to store and access their virtual desktop and user data from all university-owned and personal devices. Additionally, the high-availability features inherent in the NetApp platform deliver 24x7 access to desktops and automatically backup student data. This anytime remote access and data protection is a fundamental component to any virtual desktop infrastructure and will help students be more productive and increase overall utilization of the Apps@UT network.

The students on UT Knoxville’s Technology Advisory Board were the visionaries driving the Apps@UT program, believing it will give all university students the high degree of flexibility and availability they have come to expect from technology today.

Question 4:  What made you choose FlexPod as the data center platform?
The university chose FlexPod due to its clean, compact design and high performance, as well as coordinated services among vendors. Our executives loved the simplicity and power of the integrated stack in FlexPod. And for IT, the prevalidated architecture with prescriptive sizing and design guides reduced our risk in deploying entirely new and more advanced data center architecture.

Citrix and FlexPod are so incredibly flexible and modular that if we have an issue such as a fan or a power supply going out—an extremely rare occurrence—we can remedy it with no downtime. We routinely get compliments from students that our computer labs are much more responsive and stable than others they’ve used in the past.

Question 5: Since deploying the FlexPod have you seen significant business benefits?
Apps@UT rolled out application virtualization to 1,200 lab machines across the university and now UT-Knoxville offers more than 27,000 students and faculty secure access via many of their own devices to key research and other applications. Faculty and students are better served because they can log in online to assign or complete assignments from anywhere, at their own convenience, versus having to go to a dedicated lab.
We have seen significant IT resource and cost savings, better service for students, and faster responsiveness to student and faculty needs.

In IT, we can now say ‘Yes’ when asked to do what used to be impossible. It makes us proud because we can cost-effectively deliver a higher level of IT services—an important factor in sustain¬ing our competitiveness and building a successful learning environment for students. 

Find out more about the University of Tennessee here.