The University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) is one of the UAE's oldest and most prestigious universities. Established in 1993 by the University of Wollongong in Australia, UOWD represents a pioneering Australian initiative in the Gulf region.
From its humble beginnings opposite Al Mulla Plaza, through the landmark presence on Jumeirah Beach Road, to its current location at Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV), UOWD has become recognised as an integral part of Dubai’s academic landscape.
The university has three buildings in DKV including one central data centre, all linked via a 1 gigabyte network. The university has a full-time staff in excess of 200 people, plus varying numbers of visiting lecturers throughout the term. The IT department of six engineers, under the management of Mr. Joseph Aninias, has to support more than 400 IT users.
The applications and software systems used include: Microsoft Office Suite, Adobe Suite, Arena simulation software, Unity, Virtual Worlds, SQL, CRM, Database, Business Intelligence and Admissions. The university’s staff are the primary users that Mr. Aninias and his team support.
IT is seen as an integral part of the university’s operation, ensuring the revenue generating and other business functions can operate efficiently. As such, the IT department cannot compromise on the level of service that it offers its users.
As a result of the 2008 global financial crisis, UOWD’s 2009 IT capital budget was significantly cut. This created a significant business and technology challenge for Mr. Aninias, as the IT team was about to undertake a major workplace transformation and refresh project. There were a number of aging PCs which were planned that year for replacement, to ensure users did not experience degradation in service. This replacement project had to be cancelled. Additionally, because of the uncertain financial outlook at that time, it was prudent to also plan for significant reductions in any future PC replacements.
“I had to find a solution that would both extend the life of the then existing PCs within my reduced budget, whilst ensuring user productivity was not impacted,” said Mr. Aninias. “The users were very reluctant to change from their established method of working. Any solution I offered had to perform at least as well as their existing one,” he added.
It became clear to Mr. Aninias that a hosted environment was the way forward. This meant centralizing applications and desktops in the datacenter and then delivering them as virtualized services, enabling IT to deliver applications and desktops to users on demand, to any device, anywhere.
A number of competitive virtualization solutions, including Citrix® XenDesktop®, were investigated and tested over a 100Kbps link. The reason for testing on this 100Kbps link was because this was the speed of the inter-office contingency connection. If these solutions were able to run effectively over this relatively low bandwidth, it was clear that the main one gigabit link would be more than sufficient. This testing process had the added benefit of allaying management and user concerns over network performance using this type of solution.
“The Citrix solution was extremely light and we were delighted with its performance,” extoled Mr. Ananias. “Unfortunately, all the other solutions utilized almost all the available LAN bandwidth.”
Because of the nature of the solution, the initial rollout of 195 Citrix XenDesktop users was carried out overnight. The next morning, users did not even know there had been any changes to the infrastructure. A user satisfaction survey was performed shortly after the implementation, which fully supported the decision to adopt the Citrix hosted solution. The key finding from that survey was the users stating that their systems were actually running faster and better than before. The 500 PCs used throughout the University in 2009 had reduced to 60 by 2013, having been replaced by over 300 thin clients during the intervening years. There are plans to further increase the numbers of thin clients going forward. Almost all the existing PCs have all their applications hosted.
“As a user, I get a virtual desktop aligned to what I and the university needs for me to do my job, without affecting the desktop or device. My work space follows me and when I open my environment on a new system and/or location, it’s in the same state as I left it,” explained Mr. Aninias. “Virtualization provides mobility and accessibility for staff or students who opt to use the service and is in line with the BYOD trend,” he added.
Mr. Aninias and his team were able to achieve their objective of reducing the IT capital expenditure costs as a result of extending the lives of the existing PCs. They were also able to reduce operating expenses through savings in warranties and supplier SLAs, only paying for the services as and when needed.
The IT department also saw operational benefits running the Citrix solution. From their own desks the IT team can simply and seamlessly make any changes, software updates and install new software. It no longer has the time-consuming task of tracking down the target PCs, often taking them out of action while any changes are made.
With the Citrix desktop virtualization solution, it has been easy to offer more services and applications to include those students who wish to use the university’s online student applications.
There are also a number of core applications based at the university headquarters Australia, which need to be made available to its subsidiary campus in Dubai. Prior to the implementation of Citrix, it was a challenge to make these available to all the users who required access. Now, these are easy to manage and deploy to any user as required using Citrix XenApp®.
Overcoming user resistance proved to be easier than expected. Users have found that they are getting a better level of service from a centrally hosted environment. As a result, user satisfaction is at an all-time high.
“In our first year with Citrix we achieved a real 47 per cent reduction in our capital expenditure costs. Since then we have been annually averaging a 21 per cent reduction in both capital and operational expenditure costs,” explained Mr. Aninias. “The users, our management and finance are all pleased with the results,” he concluded.
With the success to date, the university is continuing to expand the numbers of its thin clients, powered by Citrix services. It is keen to explore other Citrix solutions, particularly Citrix ShareFile®.
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