Friday, November 11, 2011

LabSTOR moves from proof of concept to pilot

The LabSTOR project is ready to take its next step in this pioneering effort to develop a collaborative virtual computer lab (cVCL) service.

This spring, we ran a proof-of-concept project that allowed us to develop a better understanding of both the promise and the limitations of this model, and we are ready to move from our proof-of-concept to a full-blown cVCL pilot to begin in January 2012 and run for two years. This pilot will provide each participating campus a cVCL service that can be used to provide virtual desktop access to software for a few courses and will provide us collectively with the experience needed to inform decisions about how to grow to a campus-wide deployment. In particular, we expect to continue tweaking the VCL software to better fit our needs and deepen our understanding of the cost model so that we can take best advantage of the economies of scale in a shared services model.

In cooperation with our technology partner, The Longsight Group, we have put together the following package of services, which is contingent on us gathering a minimum of 25 schools willing to participate:
Each participating school will have the ability to reserve for in-class use a block of guaranteed sessions to allow for use of the virtual computer lab for face-to-face instruction
Additional outside of class reserved access to the shared facility will be possible for some uses, and unreserved seats will always be available on a first-come, first-served basis for students or faculty wanting to use course software
In addition to supporting the use of specialized academic software on virtual machines, LabSTOR will provide access to high performance computing resources

In order to continue the project, we are seeking partners willing to use the service for one or more courses and able to commit $5,000 per year for two years.

As part of our efforts to scale this project from a pilot to an enterprise-class facility, we have begun exploring how the Virtual Computing Lab software might access cloud compute services, such as Amazon’s EC2 service. This will allow for bursting beyond the capacity of local infrastructure. In addition, we will continue to explore our options for improving how software licensing works in this environment.

We are a genuine cooperative exploring new models of working together collaboratively. We are not a vendor trying to gain your business. We are a group of like-minded college technologists trying to boot-strap our way into a new way of working together that promises to make more sense and be much more efficient in the long run. Such collaboration is at various moments messy, slow, complicated, and frustrating. But for many of us, it is also the most obvious path forward, despite its many challenges. We ask as you consider this proposal that you factor this in to your decision.

There are benefits to this model of cooperative effort: The cost of doing the pilot is much less than it would be if we tried to do it on our individual campuses. The LabSTOR virtual lab makes software available to students twenty-four seven from wherever they happen to be (ask the student nearest to you if they’d prefer that to going to a lab on the other side of campus). The shared high performance computing possibilities are similarly exciting, and again not something that it is easy to achieve alone. The cVCL allows us to regain some control over our destiny through collective action rather than waiting for whatever the cloud service providers want to market to us. In the end, we believe this model will reduce our costs while improving access to important computing resources.

We hope you will indicate your interest in joining us for this journey by contacting one of us no later than November 23. You can do so here.