5 Introduction Virtualization technologies are used in teaching computer classes in colleges anduniversities in the United States, Europe, and Canada. At the British Columbia Institute ofTechnology (BCIT) in Canada, virtualization products, such as VMware Workstation andMicrosoft Virtual Server 2005, are used to teach system administration courses in Linux andMicrosoft Windows Server, and database courses in Oracle. As more instructors within theSchool of Computing and Academic Studies at BCIT adopt the use of virtual machines inteaching their courses, the demands placed on individual lab resources, including hardware,system configuration, and maintenance, increases. For an instructor to use virtual machines in their labs, the virtualization product must beinstalled on the lab computer. Next, the instructor must create their own virtual machines or usevirtual machines that are provided with a course textbook or related courseware. Finally, theinstructor‟s virtual machines must be installed on each computer in the lab. Although all of the computers in a lab are usually configured from a single image, thetime required for creating that image has increased in complexity with the use of multiple virtualmachines for a single course. More significantly is the amount of hard drive space required for adisk image containing multiple virtual machines. The amount of time it takes to distribute a largedisk image over a network to all of the computers in the lab has increased in proportion to thesize of the images.Area for Intervention An enterprise-level, virtual server environment can be implemented for hosting thevirtual machines currently installed on the individual workstations in a computing lab. An
6excellent case study of the virtual computing initiative at North Carolina State University andNorth Carolina Central University presents a replicable business model for building a virtualcomputing environment (Li, 2009; Schaffer, Averitt, Holt, Peeler, Sills & Vouk, 2009; Seay &Tucker, 2010; Vouk, 2008; Young, 2008). Instead of installing virtual machines on everyworkstation in a lab, multiple instances of the virtual machines reside on a storage area network(SAN) associated with a virtual server environment. Students have network access to the virtualmachines for their classes and a virtual server management system instantiates an instance of avirtual machine from the SAN when a student needs to use it.Policies and Programs Implementing an enterprise-level virtual server environment for computing courses atBCIT requires a change in the current delivery model of virtual machines to individualworkstations in computer labs. The Information Technology Services (ITS) department at BCIThas built an enterprise-level virtual server environment. However, the environment is currentlyonly configured to host applications, not virtual machines used by instructors for their courses.The environment can be configured to host virtual machines for the computing labs. Strengths. Deploying virtual machines for the computing labs through an enterprise-level virtual server environment has the following strengths or advantages: 1. Instructors will not have to worry about running out of hard drive space for their virtual machines on lab workstations. This is currently happening. 2. Instructors will not have to worry about virtual machines being accidently deleted from lab workstations. This is also occurring in the labs.
7 3. Students will not have to purchase Universal Serial Bus (USB) flash drives to backup their virtual machines. This is necessary because virtual machines are being deleted from the lab workstations. 4. Instructors will have the flexibility of allowing students to use web browsers on their own computers for accessing hosted virtual machines. Students will not be required to use lab workstations to access their virtual machines. 5. ITS will not have to reimage lab workstations each school term (semester) with new virtual machines. 6. The cost associated with adding new hard drives to lab workstations, to accommodate more instructors using virtual machines or the size increases of existing virtual machines, can be eliminated. Weaknesses. There are weaknesses or disadvantages to deploying virtual machinesthrough an enterprise-level virtual server environment: 1. Students will lose control of copying and backing up their own virtual machines. 2. Instructors cannot remove a defective virtual machine on a lab workstation and replace it with a fresh image in real time. 3. There could be performance issues with multiple virtual machines running in a large, enterprise-level server environment. 4. Instructors may be limited to the size and number of virtual machines they deploy, contingent upon the virtual server and SAN resources provided by the ITS group. Instructors using virtual machines to teach courses at BCIT are limited by the resourcesavailable on the individual workstations in each lab. Virtual machines can be accidently and
8intentionally deleted, resulting in students losing the work they have done on their virtualmachines. It is time consuming to reimage a workstation or reinstall virtual machines on aworkstation when loss of data or corruption occurs. One instructor does not have to competewith another instructor for limited hard drive space on lab computers for hosting their virtualmachines. Deploying virtual machines in an enterprise-level, virtual server environment means thatvirtual machines do not have to be installed on individual lab workstations at the beginning ofeach school term. Virtual machines are not in danger of being deleted from lab workstations.Virtual deployment of virtual machines means that students can access their virtual machinesremotely. Instructors have more flexibility in how they want to conduct the lab portions of theirclasses. Related Work Educators and researchers at colleges and universities in the United States and Europe areusing virtualization technologies in three primary methods. The first method is to install virtualmachines on single workstations in a physical lab (Albee, Campbell, Murray, Tongen, & Wolfe,2007; Bullers, Burd, & Seazzu, 2006; Dobrilović & Odadžić, 2006; Li, 2009; Lunsford, 2009;Stockman, Nyland, & Weed, 2005; Toppin, 2008; Vollrath & Jenkins, 2004; Yang, 2007). Thesecond method is to host applications in a an enterprise-level, server environment (Blezard,2004; Einsmann & Patel, 2007; Kissler & Hoyt, 2005; Schaffer et al., 2009; Seay & Tucker,2010; Vouk, 2008; Young, 2008; “Wired Brazil”, 2009; White, 2008). The third method is tohost virtual machines in an enterprise-level, virtual server environment (Border, 2007; Burd,Seazzu, & Conway, 2009; Li, 2009; Rigby & Dark, 2006). The third method is referred to as a
9virtual lab. Much of this research into the use of virtual machines and virtual labs is beingconducted by educators and researches teaching networking and systems administration courses(Albee et al., 2007; Border, 2007; Bullers et al., 2006; Dobrilović & Odadžić, 2006; Li, 2010; Li,Toderick, & Lunsford, 2009; Rigby & Dark, 2006; Stackpole, 2008; Stackpole, Koppe, Haskell,Guay, & Pan, 2008; Stockman et al., 2005; Vollrath & Jenkins, 2004; Yang, 2007). The author isalso using virtual machines to teach students networking principals and systems administrationcourses at BCIT.Single Workstations Albee et al. (2007) at Central Michigan University created a student-managed networkinglab for teaching students in the undergraduate Information Technology (IT) program. Theyadopted VMware Player to run their virtual machine images. Their motivation for adoptingvirtualization technology included a shrinking budget for operating their computing lab,supporting multiple courses with different operating requirements on a single workstation, andovercrowding in the networking lab (Albee et al.). The use of virtual machines allowed them toreduce the number of general-use computers from 200 to 40. They retained 16, course-specificmachines. Stackpole et al. (2008) used VMware‟s virtualization platform in their 80 workstation labat Rochester Institute of Technology for teaching students in the Networking, Security andSystems Administration Department. In Stackpole et al‟s. (2008) lab, workstations were re-imaged for each class taught in the lab. Although the imaging process allowed students to savetheir own unique copy of their lab exercises, the time to save and restore a workstation couldconsume up to half of a lab period (Stackpole, et al.) In addition to the imaging time, Stackpole
10et al. experienced problems with managing the operating system images for each workstation aswell. The ability to uniquely configure the hardware reduced both the utilization and efficiencyof the lab. Lastly, computer resource utilization suffered: one machine was only running oneoperating system. Stackpole et al. found that virtualization was the solution to their fourproblems. Vollrath and Jenkins (2004) used virtual machines at East Tennessee State University toteach 60 students each semester in a course System Administration course. Like BCIT, bothLinux and Windows operating systems were taught in the System Administration course.Vollrath and Jenkins decision to use virtual machines was motivated by four problems, the mostsignificant being that students did not have access to a dedicated lab machine to do their labexercises. (Students do not have dedicated lab computers at BCIT.) Other problems includedgroup assignments, which required a team of students to be in the lab a specific time, getting labassistants to check off students assignments during lab periods, and the grading of hands-onexaminations during a lab period. To solve these problems, Vollrath and Jenkins chose toimplement virtual machines running under Microsoft‟s Virtual PC platform. Yang (2007) used virtual machines to teach a network administration at the University ofWest Georgia. Yang used multiple virtual machines running in a Microsoft Virtual PCenvironment. The Virtual PC technology allowed Yang to bypass the resource limitations ofsetting “aside some specific computers, network devices, and lab space just for one or twocourses” (p. 138). Using virtualization allowed the university to reduce costs and achieve moreflexible lab access. Students could access the virtual machines from any computer in the lab. Inaddition, students were given 24x7 physical access to the computer labs.
11 Bullers et al. (2006) taught courses in network administration, database administration,and information security and assurance at University of New Mexico. Prior to implementingvirtualization, workstations were partitioned for each class. This required lengthy rebootsbetween classes. Bullers et al. found that lab computers using virtualization were notcompromised by worms or viruses, each virtual machine could be individually configured, andthe VMware restore facility allowed students to recover from errors. Implementing virtualmachines using VMware Workstation on the individual machines in the lab allowed them tocreate complex lab exercises for their courses and eliminated system reboots. Stockman et al. (2005) taught networking and system administration courses at theUniversity of Cincinnati. The storage and delivery of virtual machine images became a problembecause the file sizes exceeded “the capacity of removable media formats (floppy, CD-R, Zip,flash drives)” (p. 4). This created problems with the usability, management, and backup of thevirtual machines. Stockman et al. sought solutions to these problems through the use of anetwork attached storage device that delivered the virtual machines to lab client systems whenrequested by a student. Dobrilović and Odadžić (2006) used virtual machines to teach computer networks courseat University of Novi Sad in Serbia and Montenegro. Dobrilović and Odadžić needed a “low-cost and easy-to-use solution” to sharing computers in a “real computer laboratory” used forseveral other courses (p. 128). Virtual machines were that solution; they were installed on everysingle workstation in the physical computer lab. Li (2009) found that physical labs at East Carolina University were “costly to build,maintain and expand” (p. 4). The challenge was to “deliver remote hands-on laboratory courses
12efficiently and effectively with the limited budget.” (p. 4). Budget constraints also limited theirability to upgrade physical labs with the latest technologies. Lab hours where limited for allstudents. This had a negative impact, especially on students who didn‟t complete their labs in theallotted lab time (two hours, like BCIT). To solve these problems, Li introduced a decentralizedlab model in 2006. Under this model, “virtual machines were installed and the hands-onexercises were performed on the student‟s personal computer” (p. 4), not on lab servers orcampus machines. Toppin (2008) took a similar approach at Winston-Salem State University to what Li(2009) did, whereby students installed virtual machines on their personal computers. Toppinbuilt a server for the purpose of hosting the virtual machines used in his networking course.Students logged into the server remotely and downloaded virtual machines bearing their name(Toppin). Students were also able to download VMware Server, the virtual machine hostingenvironment required to run the virtual machines. Toppin found that students had more controlof their laboratory assignments if they used virtual machines. Toppin‟s approach was to create aremote model for his networking course so that students did not have to be on-campus to take hiscourse. Lunsford (2009) used virtual machines to teach an information systems security course ina computer lab at the University of Southern Mississippi. Each student was responsible forcreating their own virtual machine using VMware Workstation. The students installed MicrosoftWindows XP Service Pack 1 on the virtual machine. Lunsford found challenges with thisapproach. These challenges included “the students‟ lack of experience using virtual machines,educator control over students‟ virtual machines, … disk space and machine requirements, and
13the ability to make regular backups of virtual machines” (p. 345). Although the author at BCITprovides the virtual machines for his courses to his students, he faces many of the same problemsas Lunsford, including sufficient disk space and no ability backup virtual machines.Hosted Applications Researchers and students at Virginia Commonwealth University wanted access tolicensed copies of mathematical and statistical software (Einsmann & Patel, 2007). In addition,they wanted the software to run from any location on a variety of platforms, including Windows,Mac, and Linux. However, the cost of individual licenses of the software, for all of theresearchers and students who wanted the software, was prohibitive for a campus-wide sitelicense. Instead, the Department of Technology Services created a virtual application hostingenvironment called „app2go.‟ Researchers and students could access a variety of third partyapplications, including mathematical and statistical software, from a variety of web browsers onWindows, Mac, Linux, and UNIX platforms. Software licensing was then based on the numberof concurrent users instead of a per seat (workstation) basis. This reduced licensing costs. At the University of West Florida (White, 2008), reductions in state university budgetsplaced pressures on the operation of physical computer labs. The only computing facility oncampus that was open 24x7 had its operating hours cut in half (White). Open access to the labon weekends and at night was canceled (White). In response to the cost cutting, the universitylaunched an „eDesktop‟ virtual computer lab in September of 2007. The purpose of eDesktopwas to provide licensed software to all students, including distance learners, reduce softwarecosts, and reduce the costs of maintaining physical computer labs. White notes that “students
14who need access to specialized software could spend on the order of $3,000 [USD] or $4,000 ormore throughout their academic career” (p. 77).1 In 2004, North Carolina State University created a virtual computing lab (Li, 2009;Schaffer et al., 2009; Seay & Tucker, 2010; Vouk, 2008; Young, 2008). The purpose of the labwas to provide “on-demand applications anywhere/anytime” (Seay & Tucker, p. 75). Softwareimages or virtualized applications were installed onto blade servers in the computing lab‟s datacenter. Virtualization allowed students, faculty and staff, using a web browser, access “to dozensof desktop applications anywhere/anytime” (Seay & Tucker, p. 77). Kissler and Hoyt (2005), at Valparaiso University, sought to reduce IT costs associatedwith computer hardware and staff time related to deploying, maintaining, and supportingworkstations and users. The university deployed thin clients to reduce complexity and cost.Applications were stored on a central server and thin-client devices, much lower in cost than anindividual workstation, were installed to allow users to access to applications over the campusnetwork. Blezard (2004), at University of New Hampshire, was motivated to reduce the total costof ownership for computer services by lowering client hardware and management costs. LikeKissler and Hoyt (2005), Blezard implemented thin-client technologies. All applications, such asMicrosoft Word and Excel, were hosted on a single server. Blezard used Microsoft‟s TerminalServices to allow users to access the applications within a Windows desktop environment.1 Monetary amounts are noted in either Canadian dollars (CDN) or United States dollars (USD). Only the firstamount in each paragraph identifies the currency. All other amounts in the paragraph are in the same currency.
15 Students in Brazil used virtualized desktops (“Wired Brazil”, 2009). A hosted, virtualenvironment allowed one computer to deploy virtual desktops to 10 workstations (“WiredBrazil”, p. 13). A total of 18,750 workstations were configured using the virtual desktop model,saving “60 percent in upfront costs” (“Wired Brazil”, p. 13).Virtual Labs Border (2007) taught networking, security, and systems administration classes atRochester Institute of Technology. He wanted to provide distance students the sameopportunities that local students had with access to physical labs. He also wanted to avoidassigning a single workstation to a single student. Border developed a virtual lab environmentrunning multiple virtual machines configured with different versions of Microsoft Windows andLinux operating systems. The virtual lab environment allowed students to configure differentnetwork configurations and topologies. More importantly, the virtual lab environment allowedremote access to the virtual machines for distance students. Rigby and Dark (2006) recognized a significant increase in students enrolled in distancelearning. They also recognized the difficulty of offering hands-on lab experiences to distancelearners. Rigby and Dark implemented a virtual remote lab for networking students andoperating system courses at Purdue University and Brigham Young University -Idaho. Theyused virtual machines hosted on remote lab servers. They found that use of the remote labslowered costs and increased lab utilization between courses. In 2009, Li (2009) and Li et al. (2009) introduced an option to the decentralized labmodel created in 2006. Li et al. allowed students access to the Virtual Computing Lab (VCL) atNorth Carolina State University (Vouk, 2008). Initially, the VCL was used as a place students
16could back up their virtual machines. Later, in 2009, students were given the opportunity to doall of their assignments using the VCL. (The VCL hosted their virtual machines and studentswere allowed remote access.) Li et al. found this model to be “a cost-effective way of deliveringremote labs efficiently” (p. 56). Stackpole (2008) discussed the evolution of his virtualized lab environment (Stackpole etal., 2008) to create a remote laboratory system to enable distance learning techniques. Stackpolepiloted a virtual lab based on operating a successful physical teaching lab. The evolution fromthe physical lab to the virtual lab was motivated by the cost of maintaining a physical lab,increasing the availability of the virtualized lab environment, improving computer performance,and community outreach (Stackpole). Between 2005 and 2008, Stackpole successfully pilotedthe remote virtual lab environment. Burd et al. (2009) created a virtual lab at the University of New Mexico as part of an“initiative to incorporate mobile computing throughout the curriculum” (p. IIP – 55). The labwas designed to allow students remote access to school computing resources and applications,including software that was installed in physical labs. The development of the virtual lab wasalso driven by concerns for lab accessibility and the costs associated with supporting in-classcomputer use (Burd et al.). Background The school of computing at BCIT has 12 labs with an average of 25 workstations in eachlab. The courses taught in the SE12-306 (building-room) lab use virtual machines extensively forhands-on exercises. Virtual machines are used to teach system administration courses in Linux
17and Microsoft Windows Server, and two database courses in Oracle. A total of five sections ofthe Oracle courses are taught during the day and at night. Virtual machines used in the computing labs at BCIT range in size from five gigabytes(GB) to 50GB. The use of virtual machines in the SE12-306 increased in 2008 when virtualmachines were introduced for the lab exercises in the Windows Server system administrationclass. The introduction of an additional 100GB of virtual machines (two sections of classes at50GB each) approached the capacity limits of the 135GB partition on the lab‟s workstations. In 2010, a new version of Oracle, 11g, was introduced. (The prior version of Oracle usedwas 10g.) This caused the size of the virtual machines for the Oracle classes to increase.(Currently, the five Oracle virtual machines used in SE12-306 occupy 80GB of disk space.) Thecumulative total of all of the virtual machines used to teach courses in SE12-306 exceeded thecapacity of the hard drive partitions of the workstations. One set of virtual machines used toteach one section of the Windows Server system administration class had to be deleted. (Eachstudent is assigned their own set of virtual machines on a workstation.) Students in the systemadministration class had to work in teams of two, with one section assigned to odd-numberedworkstations and the other section assigned to even-numbered workstations. This remains aproblem heading into the January, 2011, term. Toppin (2008) argues that the benefits of using virtual machines “far outweigh thedisadvantages” (p. 16). The use of virtual machines allows students to manage more servers andclients than in a physical lab (Toppin). The use of virtual machines also allows students moreflexibility for completing their laboratory assignments outside of regularly scheduled laboratoryclasses (Toppin).
18 Terris (2010) notes that “more than 11% of colleges and universities are phasing outcomputer laboratories or plan to do so” (p. 21). Laboratories are being replaced by virtualenvironments or multi-purpose computer rooms (Terris). A major reason for this shift is the factthat 83% of students in four-year colleges own laptops (Terris). Burd et al. (2009) note,however, that the rise in laptop ownership among students “has not eliminated the need forcampus computing laboratories” (p. IIP – 56).Population The School of Computing and Academic Studies at BCIT offers two, two-year diplomaprograms for post-secondary students pursuing careers in information technology. TheComputer Systems Technology (CST) program is geared towards students interested inbecoming software developers or system engineers. The Computer Information Technology(CIT) program is designed for students interested in IT systems management and administrationjobs. The CST program enrolls approximately 115 students each year. The CIT programenrolls a maximum of 46. The students are divided into sets (cohorts). In the case of the CSTprogram, sets are based on students selecting an option (major), such as digital processing or datacommunications. For the CIT program, there are no options. Students are divided into twobalanced sets by enrolment numbers. Students in both programs remain in their sets for the full,two year sequence of courses. Students in the CST program have dedicated laboratories for their options. Because theCIT students are not in options, they do not have dedicated laboratories. However, many of thecomputing classes for the CIT students are staged and delivered in the SE12-306 lab. The
19problems with the virtual machines have a direct impact on the 46 students in the CIT programusing the SE12-306 lab. All classes in the CST and CIT programs consist of a lecture section and a lab section.Classes are worth different credits. The number of credits determines the number of hours oflecture and lab the student attends for that course each week. For example, the four credit coursein „System Administration using Linux‟ consists of two hours of lecture and two hours of labeach week. The five credit course in „Operating Systems‟ consists of three hours of lecture andtwo hours of lab. Because of this lecture-lab course structure, laboratories, like SE12-306, arebooked with classes from five to ten hours a day when school is in session. The labs are openwhen not in use by a scheduled course. BCIT also offers computing courses through its part-time studies program. Students cantake one or more courses in the evening and on weekends. For example, BCIT offers an eveningcourse in using the Oracle database system. This course is offered in the SE12-306 lab. Thestudents in the Oracle class use virtual machines. These virtual machines are stored on the samehard drive partition as the virtual machines used during the day time classes. Therefore, studentstaking part-time, evening classes in SE12-306 face the same risks to their virtual machines as daytime students.Geographic Location BCIT is located in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. (Burnaby is a contiguous citywith Vancouver.) BCIT is a public, post-secondary institution with approximately 16,000 full-time and 31,000 part-time students attending on an annual basis. BCIT offers a wide range of
20certificates, diplomas, and degrees in a variety of disciplines. In addition, BCIT studentscommute to campus. There is limited on-campus housing for international students. Problems There are three major problems with using virtual machines on the workstations in theSE12-306 computing lab: (a) the size of the virtual machines exceeding the available hard drivespace, (b) virtual machines being deleted, and (c) students are unable to perform lab exercises onthe virtual machines outside of the physical lab.Hard Drive Space Instructors within the School of Computing and Academic Studies at BCIT, who usevirtual machines in the lab sections of their courses, want to expand the number and size of thevirtual machines. Between January, 2008, and August, 2010, the number of instructors usingvirtual machines in SE12-306, increased from one to five. In the same period of time, the totalsize the virtual machines used in this lab increased to between 105GBs and 135GBs. The totalsize approached -- and exceeded -- the 135GB capacity of the hard drive partition on theworkstation. Virtual machines used for teaching the Oracle courses expand as activities are performedon them. In February, 2010, the total size of all of the virtual machines expanded to exceed thecapacity of the hard drive‟s partition. Virtual machines for a non-database course were deletedand students had to work in teams on a different set of virtual machines.Virtual Machine Deletion Virtual machines can be accidently or intentionally deleted. Although the hard drives onthe workstations do not have to be reimaged, the virtual machines do have to be replaced with a
21new copy of the virtual machine. If replacement occurs in the middle of a term, a student losesall of the work they have performed on the virtual machine that was deleted. In these situations,the instructor usually asks the student to team with another student so they don‟t have to repeatprior labs or bring a new virtual machine current. Changing the password on the operating system used to create the virtual machine makesthe virtual machine inaccessible by other students. Students are not assigned their ownworkstation in the lab, but they are encouraged to use the same workstation when they are usingthe lab. A student‟s username and password can be used to access any workstation in any of the12 computing labs. In situations where the password has changed or the student has forgottenthe password to a modified virtual machine, the virtual machine must be replaced or the studentis asked to work in a team with another student at a different workstation.Remote Access Students and instructors do not have remote access the virtual machines used in the lab.Students must either complete lab exercises during their assigned lab period or complete their labexercises during open lab hours. Students are allowed to use their own laptops for doing labexercises. However, not every student with a laptop wants to install the virtual machineenvironment, like VMware Workstation, and the virtual machines. Like a workstation in the lab,their laptop may not have enough hard drive space for a virtual machine and its expansion. Purpose At the BCIT, instructors using virtual machines to teach the lab sections of their coursesin SE12-306 are having problems with virtual machines exceeding the capacity of theworkstation hard drives and virtual machines being accidently or intentionally deleted. When
22passwords are intentionally changed on virtual machines, preventing further access, the virtualmachines must be reinstalled. Because there is no remote access to virtual machines in SE12-306, it is difficult for students to work on lab assignments outside of classroom hours.Proposed Solutions There are several possible solutions to the problems instructors and students are having inSE12-306 with virtual machines exceeding the capacity of the workstation hard drives, virtualmachines being deleted, and the desire for remote access to lab virtual machines. One solution isfor students to purchase USB drives. The USB drive could be used as a backup device. The USBdrive could also be used as the primary storage unit for the student‟s virtual machines instead ofthe hard drive partition on the lab‟s workstation. A second solution is for BCIT to purchase and install larger hard drives on theworkstations in SE12-306. This solution would allow instructors to use more and larger virtualmachines. Larger hard drives would prevent instructors from having to compete for limited diskspace on the hard drive partitions. A third solution is to host the virtual machines in an enterprise-level, virtual serverenvironment. Virtual machines would not be installed and stored on the hard drives of theworkstations in the lab. Instead, virtual machines would be stored on the SAN associated withthe virtual server environment. Students could access the virtual machines both from a labworkstation and remotely, using their own computer.Estimated Outcome of the Solutions The author‟s review of the use of virtualization technologies by educators and researchersat colleges and universities in the United States and Europe found three, primary methods in use:
23(a) installing virtual machines on single workstations in a physical lab, (b) hosting applications inan enterprise-level, server environment, and (c) hosting virtual machines in a virtual serverenvironment. Educators teaching networking and systems administration courses have usedvirtual machines with all three methods. Some educators are moving their workstation-basedvirtual machines to hosted, virtual server environments. After creating a decentralized lab model, in 2006, in which students ran virtual machineson their personal computers, Li et al. (2009), in 2008, experimented with hosting the virtualmachines for three different classes using the Virtual Computing Lab (VCL) at North CarolinaState University (Vouk, 2008) Sixty-one students participated in the experiment. Twentystudents lived on campus and 41 were distance education or online students. Li et al. found thatthe centralized remote lab model (i.e. the VCL) was flexible and efficient. It allowed faculty andstudents 24/7 remote access and extended the boundaries of learning to students to studyanywhere at their pace. In a 2006 survey, when use of the VCL was optional, a majority ofstudents (89%) preferred decentralized model (Li, 2009). However, the main argument againstthe VCL, at the time, was the need for an Internet connection (Li, 2009). Students found that useof the VCL meant using fewer resources on their own computers (Li, 2009). Stackpole (2008) piloted a remotely accessible, virtual lab environment in the fall of 2005at Rochester Institute of Technology. The costs of maintaining a physical lab included thephysical space for the lab, heating and cooling, electricity, furniture, et cetera. There was laborcosts associated with maintaining the lab and lab equipment, after-hours security costs, et cetera.Students did not have access to labs 24x7. This limited the students‟ ability to complete their labexercises during open lab periods. The performance of the machines in the physical lab was
24affected by the fact that they were always one to two years behind the state-of-the art technology.The virtual lab started as a proof-of-concept project, but it evolved into a useful and excitingplatform for students and faculty (Stackpole, 2008). Stackpole (2008) was able to use ten, high-end workstations at no cost. The approximateconfiguration of the workstations was a 2.5GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, and a100base-T Ethernet connection. Microsoft Windows XP was installed as the host operatingsystem and VMware Workstation as the virtualization platform. Appropriate licenses wereavailable to the institute. VMware allowed a group of virtual machines to be created on eachworkstation. One machine was assigned to one student during the pilot project. Studentsconnected to the machine using Remote Desktop. Stackpole (2008) ran a second pilot during the winter quarter (term). After the first pilot,the operating systems on the workstations were changed to Windows Server 2003 with MicrosoftTerminal Services. This allowed central administration of the workstations using ActiveDirectory. Twenty students were assigned to the second pilot and more than one student wasallowed simultaneous access to the virtual machines on a workstation. This caused a problembecause each student could allocate all of the available memory to their single session. After a third pilot in the spring quarter, Stackpole (2008) obtained access to “a number ofblades” in a fully populated IBM blade server (p. 246). The blade server was attached to a SAN.The plan was to use VMware Workstation and a Windows infrastructure. However, “the bladeserver was not as economical a solution in terms of the number of VMs that could be supported”(Stackpole, p. 246).
25 Stackpole (2008) noted that smaller institutions could not afford to build a similar virtuallab infrastructure. As of 2008, Rochester Institute of Technology was working with othercolleges to help them develop virtual labs that could use their infrastructure. In August of 2008,the original, ten workstation, virtual lab environment was decommissioned. It was replaced by a“four SunFire servers and a NetApp SAN” (p. 247). Stackpole expects that instructors‟coursework will continue to migrate to the new platform. Stockman et al. (2005) solved problems related to the storage and delivery of virtualmachines to client workstations in a physical lab. In 2005, the authors began researchingextending the students‟ mobility (Stockman et al.). Mobility would be extended by allowingstudents remote access to the virtual machines stored on a cluster of servers (Stockman et al.). BCIT currently employs two of the three primary methods for using virtualizationtechnologies. The author uses virtual machines on single workstations in the SE12-306 physicallab for teaching system administration courses in Linux and Windows Server. In September,2010, BCIT launched the AppsAnywhere Project. The AppsAnywhere service hostsapplications from a virtual server environment, like app2go (Einsmann & Patel, 2007), eDesktop(White, 2008), and the Virtual Computing Lab (Li, 2009; Schaffer et al., 2009; Seay & Tucker,2010; Vouk, 2008; Young, 2008). The author is researching hosting the virtual machines used inthe SE12-306 on the Citrix-based, virtual server environment used for the AppsAnywhereProject. Analysis There are three possible solutions to the problems related to virtual machines in theSE12-306 lab at BCIT: (a) students purchase USB drives, (b) install larger hard drives in the lab
26workstations, and (c) host virtual machines in an enterprise-level, virtual server environment.The solutions and the likelihood of each solution to resolve the problems are presented in Table1. The solutions are considered to be the key success factors (KSFs) to solving the problems withthe virtual machines in SE12-306. All three solutions provide increased storage space for the expanded use of virtualmachines by instructors in SE12-306. The three solutions also allow for the increase in size ofvirtual machines that are used for database courses. Neither the use of USB drives nor theinstallation of larger hard drives on the lab‟s workstations prevent deletion of virtual machines orallow for remote access. Using an enterprise-level, virtual server environment provides asolution for all three problems. However, the fact that one solution meets all of the solutioncriteria is necessary, but not sufficient, to be selected as the final solution. Other factors, such ascost and access to BCIT Information Technology Services‟ resources, need to be examined.Table 1Comparison of KSFs for the virtual machines in SE12-306 Prevents deletion Increases storage Allows forSolution of virtual machines space for virtual remote access machinesStudents purchase No Yes NoUSB drivesInstall larger hard No Yes Nodrives on labworkstationsHost virtual machines Yes Yes Yesin an enterprise-level,virtual serverenvironment
27Comparable Solutions Stockman et al. (2005) recognized the problems of virtual machines stored on a localcomputer. The size of the virtual machines “regularly exceed the capacity of removable mediaformats” on local computers (p. 4). Students were restricted to using a single lab workstationduring normal lab periods. If another student was using the workstation during an open labperiod, the student was not able to continue their lab assignment. These problems are similar tothose occurring at BCIT. Stockman et al. also recognized that hard drives on workstations usingvirtual machines must be sufficient to allow for backups of each student‟s virtual machineimages. (BCIT does not provide for backup space on the existing workstations.) Stockman et al.‟s (2005) lab consisted of 18 host systems. Nine courses were taught inthe lab, equating “to 12-20 two hour lab sections per quarter” (p. 4). Each host system had150GB of storage to accommodate virtual machines ranging in size from 2-6GB. Instructorsused between one to eight virtual machines in each course. One alterative proposed by Stockman et al. (2005) was to have students purchase a USBflash drive. A 20GB could be purchased from $100 USD to $200. They recognized that notevery student could afford to purchase an external hard drive. They also thought this mightviolate computing policies at some institutions. In particular, if the flash drive was required forthe course, it should be provided by the school. Another alterative proposed by Stockman et al. (2005) was to use network attachedstorage. A student would copy their virtual machine image from a file server to the localworkstation. When the student finished their lab work, they would copy the image back to thenetwork attached storage device. However, Stockman et al. mentioned that it was unknown the
28impact the simultaneous copying of upwards of 24 images would have on the Ethernet networkcapacity or the file server. The final alternative proposed by Stockman et al. (2005) was to have students accesstheir virtual machines on the file server from a lab workstation without copying the image overthe network. The authors monitored the performance of the network and the file server whenstudents were accessing the virtual machines. Stockman et al. were encouraged by a positiveperformance and planned to do a formal trial in the summer of 2005. Border (2007) wanted to provide remote access to distance learners so they could do thesame lab exercises as students using the physical labs. Border installed virtual machines on anetwork-based storage system. The system consisted of two, 3.4 GHz CPU servers, each with2GB of RAM and two hard drives. Each hard drive consisted of a 40GB partition for the localoperating system and 300GB for student images. Each virtual machine was assigned to a fourGB virtual partition within the 300GB space. The remote access architecture used Microsoft Windows Terminal Services, MicrosoftRemote Desktop, and Microsoft Remote Assistance (Border, 2007). Active Directory was usedfor student authentication (Border). Server virtualization for the virtual machines was doneusing VMware Workstation (Border). Border (2007) conducted a case study of this model using 16 students. Each student wasassigned to a particular server. However, not all of the students could have simultaneous accessto their assigned server. Students could log into the server and “check to see who else was loggedinto the system” (Border, p. 579). If students felt the server was too busy, they had to log off andtry again later (Border).
29 Border‟s (2007) case study covered a one year period (2005). He planned to migrate to aXen open source virtual server because of a more favorable licensing model. His plan alsoincluded moving the virtual machines to a blade server and SAN architecture. Rigby and Dark (2006) also created a remote lab environment using virtual machines. Atypical firewall lab consisted of three virtual machines. Using a web browser or remote desktopsoftware, students created a virtual private network (VPN) to a terminal server. A RADIUSserver provided authentication. VMware was used for running the virtual machines. Similar to Border (2007), every student could not be granted simultaneous access to thevirtual remote lab (Rigby & Dark, 2006). A key success factor to the operation of the remote labwas a mechanism that allowed students to schedule a time to perform their lab. When the timecame to access the remote lab, the student connected to the VPN server and did their lab. Bullers et al. (2006) taught a database class using virtual machines. The virtual machineconsisted of Oracle 10g under Microsoft Windows XP Professional. Since 2007, BCIT hastaught Oracle classes using virtual machines. Up until 2010, the virtual machine consisted ofOracle 10g running under CentOS Linux distribution. Bullers et al. found, like the author, thatthe number and size of virtual machine images made backup of problematic because of lack ofadequate storage space on the lab computer hard drives. Vollrath and Jenkins (2004) required each student to purchase a removable hard drive.The hard drive could be „plugged‟ into the workstation‟s hard drive bay and the system rebooted.The removable hard drives were placed in storage when the student was not in the lab. Eachhard drive was fully configured with the operating systems and virtual machines the studentsneeded for their course. BCIT has a removable hard drive system in place at one of its labs at its
30downtown, Vancouver campus, but not in the computing labs at its Burnaby campus. Use of aremovable device does not prevent deletion of virtual machines or allow for remote access. Dobrilović and Odadžić (2006) used virtual machines for teaching a computer networkscourse. The design of Dobrilović‟s and Odadžić‟s laboratory was similar to the design of theSE12-306 laboratory at BCIT. Dobrilović and Odadžić created a base or „formed‟ virtualmachine on a single personal computer (PC) and copied it to all of the other computers in theclassroom. Dobrilović and Odadžić state that “it was obligatory to install and start-up all virtualmachines on every single PC in the real computer laboratory” (p. 128). Dobrilović and Odadžićdid not say whether or not they had problems with virtual machines being deleted from computerPCs. However, the author of this paper believes Dobrilović and Odadžić faced the same risk. The Virtual Computing Lab at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) was a campus-wide initiative designed to provide a hosted, virtual server environment to all groups within theuniversity (Seay & Tucker, 2010). Any department at NCCU could ask the virtual computinglab to host their applications. In early 2006, the program was piloted with the hosting of the WebMO molecular analysis program of the chemistry department (Seay & Tucker). Commenting onthe NCCU virtual computing lab initiative, Young (2008) noted that “students spend more timeusing specialized applications than they used to” (p. 1). After the initial deployment at NCCU, applications from the School of Business and theSchool of Library and Information Sciences were hosted by the virtual computing lab (Seay &Tucker, 2010). The entire university was given access to the services of the virtual computinglab in the summer of 2006 (Seay & Tucker). The virtual computing lab environment has provento be reliable and performance is positive (Seay & Tucker).
31Legal Issues The legal issues relevant to the problems and solutions of the use of virtual machines inSE12-306 at BCIT pertain to the software licensing of operating systems and applicationsinstalled in a virtual machine. Instructors at BCIT, who deploy virtual machines in SE12-306,are using two different server virtualization software products: VMware Workstation andMicrosoft Virtual Server 2005. BCIT licenses VMware Workstation and Microsoft VirtualServer is a free, stand-alone product that can be downloaded from the Internet. The choice of theoperating system used to build a virtual machine and the applications installed in the operatingsystem determines the licensing requirements. Microsoft operating systems, such as Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows Server2008, require licenses. Each instance of one of these operating systems requires a license. Forexample, the author has built one virtual machine that contains three instances of WindowsServer 2008 and two instances of Windows 7. All five instances within the single virtualmachine require a license. The SE12-306 laboratory has 24 workstations. When the author teaches a course inEnterprise System Administration, there are two laboratory sections of the course. Therefore,two sets of the Windows-based virtual machines are deployed to each workstation. Thistranslates into a total of 240, Microsoft operating systems licenses. BCIT has a volume licensing agreement with Microsoft. This agreement is referred to asthe Microsoft Developers Network Academic Alliance (MSDNAA). BCIT uses a KeyManagement Service server to generate a product activation key for each of the 240 instances ofthe Microsoft operating systems in the SE12-306 lab.
32 The author and other instructors using the SE12-306 laboratory also build virtualmachines using different distributions of the Linux operating system. Instructors choosedistributions of the Linux operating system that are free and open source. Only applications,such as the Oracle Database 11g, installed in the Linux operating system, require licensingagreements with the manufacturer. (An Oracle license for Linux is less expensive than a licensefor Windows XP or Windows 7.) Application and operating system licensing also applies to virtual machines deployed inan enterprise-level, virtual server environment (Microsoft Corporation, 2008, 2009a, 2009b,2010). McAuley (2005), when discussing the Xen virtual server, noted that the use of proprietaryoperating systems within virtual machines raised licensing issues. Toppin (2008) discussed thedebate between VMware, Inc. and Microsoft regarding the licensing of Windows operatingsystems used with VMware servers. Shankland (2007) noted that Windows server licenses canonly be moved from one machine to another every 90 days. This creates licensing complexitieswhen virtual machines may move from one server to another on a daily basis. In addition,Microsoft placed restrictions on which operating systems can be virtualized, particularly with theVista operating system (Chu, 2006). The virtual computing lab at North Carolina State University (NCSU) was a campus-wide initiative designed to provide a hosted, virtual server environment to all groups within theuniversity (Seay & Tucker, 2010). Even though the university had a licensing agreement to usethe Red Hat Enterprise license distribution of Linux, the people at the virtual computing lab“could not get clarity as to how [they] might properly use the license for [their] installation” (p.79). Instead, they chose a free version of Linux, SuSE 10.1, distributed by Novell. Regarding
33the installation and use of other applications, Seay and Tucker did not find licensing to be amajor hurdle. Burd et al. (2009) also implemented a virtual computing laboratory at the University ofNew Mexico. The design of this laboratory was similar to that of the virtual computing lab atNCCU (Seay & Tucker, 2010). Burd et al. noted that “the school had current site licenses for allrequired software” (p. IIP-60). They also found that with some applications removing them fromworkstations in a physical laboratory and moving them to a virtual laboratory reduced licensingcosts. Dobrilović and Odadžić (2006) used virtual machines for teaching a computer networkscourse. The design of Dobrilović‟s and Odadžić‟s laboratory was similar to the design of theSE12-306 laboratory at BCIT. The workstations in their laboratories ran the Microsoft WindowsXP operating system. Dobrilović and Odadžić chose Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 as their virtualserver environment for licensing reasons, instead of VMware. (Dobrilović and Odadžić did notexplain the nature of the licensing issues.) They built their virtual machines using severaldifferent Linux distributions. The University of Cincinnati‟s academic licensing agreement with Microsoft allowedStockman et al. (2005) to use the Microsoft Virtual PC platform on the lab machines. The guestoperating systems used in the virtual machines was Windows Server 2003 as well as the hostoperating systems. Both were permitted under their licensing agreement with Microsoft. Like BCIT, Vollrath and Jenkins (2004) had a MSDNAA agreement for their department.This allowed them to use Microsoft Virtual PC and multiple instances of Microsoft operating
34systems in their virtual machines. Vollrath and Jenkins noted that departments at other collegesand universities “may find virtualization packages expensive” (p. 292). The use of a USB drive to host or store copies of virtual machines poses a potentiallicensing issue if the virtual machines are copied from the USB drive to a computer outside theSE12-306 laboratory. When a Microsoft operating system is licensed using a product activationkey over the Internet, unique information, such as the network interface card number of thecomputer and other system information, is transmitted and registered with Microsoft. In otherwords, the licensing of the operating system is specific to the computer to which the operatingsystem is installed. Using the virtual machine containing the Microsoft operating system on adifferent computer violates Microsoft licensing agreements (Microsoft Corporation, 2008, 2009a,2009b, 2010). Because the activation is unique to the SE12-306 workstation‟s systeminformation, it is possible the operating systems within the virtual machine may not operateproperly if transferred to a different computer. This is an area of research the author intends toinvestigate.Ethical Issues Students are not required to purchase USB drives for courses they take at BCIT. As moreinstructors use virtual machines as part of their instructional delivery, the instructors are askingstudents to purchase USB drives. Instructors do this because they realize that virtual machinesdo get deleted from the hard drive partition on the workstations in the lab. They also realize thatthe hard drive partitions have limited capacity for virtual machines to increase in size over thecourse of a term.
35 Requiring the purchasing of a USB drive is not mentioned in course outlines as a requireditem for the courses taught at BCIT. Students are not given USB drives as part of theirenrollment or course fees at BCIT. Is it fair to ask students to purchase USB drives when theproblems related to virtual machines in the SE12-306 laboratory could be solved by installinglarger hard drives in the laboratory workstations or hosting virtual machines in an enterprise-level, virtual server environment? Stockman et al. (2005) have already noted that this mightviolate computing policies at some institutions.Social Concerns The problems with the virtual machines in the SE12-306 lab are an important socialconcern because of student behavior. Virtual machines are stored on a hard drive partition that isaccessible by any student who has access to the lab. This includes both day-time and night-timestudents. The hard drive partition has read, write and execute privileges to allow virtualmachines to grow in size for database courses and to allow temporary storage for student files. Students are not assigned their own workstation in the lab. They are free to use anyworkstation during both their scheduled lab period and open lab hours. Therefore, they canaccess the hard drive partition on any workstation in the lab. Students‟ use of the labs is based on BCIT‟s Information Management policies andmutual respect. Mutual respect means the students are not supposed to delete the virtualmachines on the workstations nor change the passwords on the virtual machines. Sometimesstudents change the passwords on a virtual machine to prevent other students from using thevirtual machine on a particular workstation, forcing the other students to use a differentworkstations.
36 Deleting virtual machines or changing their passwords on virtual machines has a directimpact on an instructor‟s time. Usually a virtual machine deletion or password change is notdiscovered until a class begins. This can cause a delay in starting the class if the instructor mustreinstall a new virtual machine. For the courses taught in SE12-306 that use virtual machines, the work performed on avirtual machine over the time span of the term is progressive. If a virtual machine must bereinstalled on a workstation, then the student is put in a position of having to redo all prior workto date. In most cases, this is not practical and the affected student ends up having to work withanother student, as a team, on another workstation. The problems with the virtual machines also impact the personal interactions of thedifferent instructors using the lab. Some instructors teach database courses. The size of thevirtual machines for those courses increases as data is added, backups are performed, et cetera.It is possible that the size of those virtual machines increases to the point where there is noavailable space on the hard drive partition of the workstations. A decision has to be made todelete virtual machines for instructors who are not teaching database courses. This is not apractical solution.Theoretical Interests These problems have theoretical interests because of the increasing use of virtualizationtechnologies used to teach computing courses in colleges and universities. Virtualization hasallowed colleges, like BCIT, to optimize the use of their labs. For example, the author has beenable to teach operating system courses in Linux, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and WindowsServer 2008 using virtual machines on a single workstation running Windows XP and Windows
377. This was reduced hardware costs by not requiring the purchase of separate workstations inorder to teach different operating systems. An enterprise-level, virtual server environment can be implemented for hosting thevirtual machines currently installed on the individual workstations in a lab. Instead of installingvirtual machines on every workstation in a lab, multiple instances of the virtual machine resideon a SAN associated with a virtual server environment. Students have network access to thevirtual machines for their classes and a virtual server management system instantiates an instanceof a virtual machine when a student needs to use it. This model could potentially eliminate theneed for physical labs, like SE12-306.Potential Solutions There are three possible solutions to the problems instructors and students are having inSE12-306 with virtual machines exceeding the capacity of the workstation hard drives, virtualmachines being deleted, and the desire for remote access to lab virtual machines. One solution isfor students to purchase USB drives. The USB drive would be the primary storage unit for thestudent‟s virtual machines instead of the hard drive partition on the lab‟s workstation. Thestudents could copy the virtual machines they are using for the courses from the lab workstationto their own USB drive the first day of class. For all subsequent classes, the student would usethe virtual machines stored on their USB drive instead of the virtual machines stored on the labworkstation. A second solution is to purchase and install larger hard drives on the workstations inSE12-306. This solution would allow instructors to use more virtual machines for their lab
38courses. It would also prevent instructors from having to compete for limited disk space on thehard drive partition. A third solution would be to host the virtual machines on an enterprise-level, virtualserver environment. Virtual machines would not be installed and stored on the hard drives of theworkstations in the lab. Instead, virtual machines would be stored on the SAN associated withthe virtual server environment. Students could access the virtual machines both from the labworkstations and remotely.Prediction of Potential Solutions The preliminary analysis of the solutions to the problems of virtual machines in theSE12-306 computing laboratory at BCIT suggests that the enterprise-level, virtual serverenvironment meets all three solution criteria. Bullers et al. (2006), Vollrath and Jenkins (2004),and Stockman et al. (2005) experienced similar problems to the author with virtual machinesrunning on single workstations in a lab. Border (2007), Burd et al. (2009), Li (2009) and Rigbyand Dark (2006) have presented evidence that colleges and universities are creating enterprise-level, virtual server environment to host virtual machines. Strategic Plan The strategic plan contains recommendations and cost estimates for the three proposedsolutions to the problems with the virtual machines in SE12-306. Cost estimates are separatedinto product costs and implementation costs. A leadership, management, and implementationplan follows the strategic plan.
39Recommendations There are three solutions to the problems related to virtual machines in the SE12-306 labat BCIT: (a) students purchase USB drives, (b) install larger hard drives in the laboratoryworkstations, and (c) host virtual machines in an enterprise-level, virtual server environment.These are the recommendations for each solution and the implications of each recommendation: USB drive. The author recommends that each student purchase a 250 gigabyte (GB)portable, external hard drive with a USB cable. The risk of a virtual machine being deleted or apassword being changed on a virtual machine on a workstation in the SE12-30 lab is significant.Either event requires the virtual machine to be re-installed. This has a serious impact on astudent‟s progress in courses they are taking that use virtual machines. This solution does have financial implications for the students. The author has discussedthe ethical issues related to students being asked to purchase the external drives. There are nopolicies at BCIT that prevent instructors from asking students to purchase the drives. Thissolution does not have any marketing, accounting, management, leadership, legal or globaldimension issues associated with it. Hard drive. The author does not recommend upgrading the hard drives of the existingworkstations in the SE12-306 lab at this time. Instead, the author recommends that 500GB or oneterabyte (TB) hard drives be provisioned for the new workstations that are scheduled to bepurchased for the lab in the summer of 2011. (BCIT replaces workstations on a four-year cyclethrough a vendor bidding process.) This solution is designed to accommodate the increased useof virtual machines by instructors using the SE12-306 lab. It is also designed to eliminatemandatory deletion of virtual machines for one instructor‟s class when the size of another
40instructor‟s virtual machines begins to exceed the available disk space on the hard drivepartition. The author recommends the installation of larger hard drives because the approval andinstallation of a hosted, virtual server environment would take a minimum of two years. There are financial and accounting issues related to the provisioning and purchase of thenew workstations with the larger hard drives. These issues are not outside the normal cost ofdoing business. There are the usual and customary management issues related to employeesinstalling new workstations in the SE12-306 lab. This solution does not have any the marketing,leadership, legal, ethical, policy or global dimension issues associated with it. Virtual server environment. The author recommends that a proof-of-concept project beinitiated to determine the feasibility of using BCIT‟s existing Citrix-based, virtual serverenvironment to host the virtual machines used in the author‟s Windows Server systemadministration course. This project would involve dedicated access to one blade server in theexisting blade server environment. The author would be responsible for conducting the proof-of-concept through a cooperative relationship with the ITS department‟s Citrix project manager. This solution does have management issues related to the allocation and coordination ofphysical and personnel resources to the proof-of-concept project. The author would establish anagreement with BCIT‟s Manager, Business Application Services and Enterprise Architecture, toprovide technical assistance from the Citrix project manager and physical resources from theexisting, Citrix-based virtual server environment. Financial, accounting, and management issuescould divert the resources away from this project to other IT initiatives within BCIT. The authordoes not perceive of any marketing, leadership, legal, ethical, global dimension or polices issuesaffecting this project.
41 Enck (2008) says that server virtualization is an important trend that will continue untilthe year 2012. Enck suggests six best practices for implementing server virtualization. The bestpractices include selecting the right applications, defining a storage strategy, calculating thereturn on investment, starting small, understanding software issues, and performance planning.Pressures to Reduce Costs There are a variety of costs associated with building and maintaining physical computerlabs. Wilson (2002) developed a budgeting worksheet for tracking both the short-term and long-term costs of establishing and maintaining a computer lab at the Oklahoma State University.Wilson allocated short-term (one year) and long-term expenses to “salaries, equipment,furnishings, consumables, supplies, and utilities” (Wilson, p. 298). Wilson considered trainingcosts to be short-term. Equipment rollover was a long-term. (At BCIT computer workstationsare rollover every four years.) Labor was categorized as either internal support or external labor.Internal support included logistical support, system support, and user support. External laborcosts were attributed to be services provided by the school‟s ITS group, such as maintenance ofthe local area network. Ma and Nickerson (2006) conducted a comparative literature review of hands-on,simulated, and remote laboratories used in engineering, education, the natural sciences,psychology, information systems, and computer science classes at institutions of higher learning.They observed that the use of virtual laboratories is increasing because of advances intechnology and pressure on universities to reduce costs (Ma & Nickerson). The pressure toreduce costs is impacting the operation of traditional laboratories that use expensive apparatus:hands-on labs are proving too costly (Ma & Nickerson).
42 Albee et al. (2007) at Central Michigan University created a student-managed networkinglab, which adopted VMware Player to run their virtual machine images. During a period of tightbudgets, financial resources for both staffing the lab and the physical equipment were limited(Albee, et al.) They could not afford to pay for permanent lab staff, so they switched to usingstudents from the work-study program (Albee, et al.) BCIT currently has one, permanent ITS staff member responsible for maintaining thedepartment‟s 12 computing labs. BCIT employees 14 student lab proctors, two hours per weekeach, for general maintenance of the computers in those labs. The problem with using students,of course, is that they graduate, resulting in a high turnover rate and the need to trainreplacements (Albee, et al., 2007). At the University of West Florida (White, 2008), reductions in state university budgetsplaced pressures on the operation of physical computer labs. The only computing facility oncampus that was open 24x7 had its operating hours cut in half (White). Open access to the labon weekends and at night was canceled (White). There are costs associated with creating and maintaining both computer labs and anenterprise-level, virtual server environment. Computer hardware costs have declined between2000 and 2010 for both producers and consumers according to the U.S. Department of Labor‟sBureau of Labor Statistics2. It may be more cost efficient to maintain individual computer labsthan implement an enterprise-level, virtual server environment.2 See http://www.bls.gov/data/
43Cost Estimate for Solutions Cost estimates for each of the three solutions follow. The estimates include hardware,software, or both. The prices exclude installation costs and taxes. Existing workstation configuration. There are 25 workstations in the SE12-306 lab.Twenty-three workstations are configured for student use, one workstation is configured for useby the instructor, and one workstation is used by the lab technician for system and networkmaintenance and monitoring. The ITS department at BCIT is responsible for purchasingcomputer equipment for the computing labs. Each workstation has an Intel Core2 2.13GHz processor, four GB of random accessmemory, and a 250GB drive. The workstations were purchased in 2007 at a cost of $730 CDNper workstation. The workstations are running Microsoft‟s 64-bit version of the Windows 7operating system. In addition, all workstations are loaded with Microsoft Office 2010, plus otherapplications requested by instructors who teach courses in SE12-306. These applications includeVMware Workstation and Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, which are used for hosting virtualmachines. Microsoft licenses are purchased through a Campus Agreement with Microsoft.Other software licenses are purchased appropriately. The space on the hard drive is divided into one 78GB partition for the operating systemand applications, and one 135GB partition for storage of course files, including virtual machines.The operating system partition is protected to prevent student access. The file partition isaccessible to anyone who can log onto a workstation in the SE12-306 lab. Workstations are standardized across the BCIT campus. (There are approximately 1,800workstations on the BCIT campus.) Workstations are replaced on a four-year cycle through a
44vendor bidding process. The vendors that are asked to bid include IBM, Dell, HP, et cetera. Thecurrent vendor is Dell. The workstations in SE12-306 are scheduled for replacement in thesummer of 2011. Bullers et al. (2006) offers comparative costs from the University of New Mexico.Bullers et al. ran three advanced computing courses in a physical lab consisting of 17workstations. Each workstation was configured with a 3 GHz Pentium 4 processor, 2GB RAM,and 40GB hard drive costing $1,850 USD each. The workstations were networked together witha 24 port Ethernet hub costing $2,500. Each workstation‟s host operating system was MicrosoftWindows XP and VMware Workstation licensed at a cost of $110. A backup server cost $2,500.The total for the lab was $36,000 or approximately $2,117 per workstation in 2006. USB drive. The size of the virtual machines used by BCIT students in the SE12-306 labvary from 25GB to 80GB. On average, students are taking two courses, which utilize virtualmachines, each term in SE12-306. The author recommends that the USB drives should be atleast 100GB in size to hold the virtual machines for a student in a typical school term. USB flash drives range in size from 2GB to 32GB and range in price from $12.95 CDNto $79.99, respectively.3 Since the largest flash drive does not meet the minimum recommendedsize to store the virtual machines, the author researched portable, external hard drives with USBconnections from the same sources. The sizes and prices of portable, external hard drives showedconsiderable range. For example, a 200GB drive and a 400GB drive were each priced at $59.99.3 Prices obtained on September 6, 2010 from the following websites: http://www.bestbuy.ca,http://www.futureshop.ca, and http://www.londondrugs.ca
45A 250GB was available for $54.99. The author could not find drives larger than 250GB thatwere less expensive. Hard drive. The ITS department at BCIT is responsible for pricing and purchasingcomputer equipment for the SE12-306 lab. The author requested a price estimate in September,2010, for both a 500GB and a one terabyte (TB) hard drive. The ITS department quoted theprices from two manufacturers. The prices for the 500GB hard drives ranged from $44.94 CDNto $88.81, depending upon the size of the cache. Prices for one terabyte drives from the twomanufacturers ranged from $68.36 to $96.05 in price. Virtual server environment. The ITS department at BCIT has a Citrix-based, virtualserver environment that is designed to provide support for applications used by differentdepartments within the school. The current environment hosts approximately 70 applications.For example, the School of Business is hosting Microsoft Office applications, such as MicrosoftExcel, for students taking business courses. The environment is currently not hosting virtualmachines for students taking courses in the SE12-306 lab. The virtual server environment was originally built in 2007 for a cost of approximately$850,000 CDN, including hardware costs, software licensing, and consulting fees. Thehardware consisted of three blade chassis with each chassis housing 14 blade servers. In 2010,one of the blade chassis and its servers was repurposed and it is no longer part of the virtualserver environment. The total cost of the remaining two blade chassis environments isapproximately $600,000. The current virtual server environment consists of two, IBM BladeCenter chassis eachhousing 14 IBM blade servers. Each blade server consists of a dual, quad-core processor with
4648GB of memory. Ten blades on one chassis are dedicated to hosting the Citrix-based, virtualapplications. The other four blades are used to host a budgeting software system. Nine blades on the other chassis are dedicated to Citrix-based applications. Five of theseblades are not part of the Citrix environment. Four blades support a Microsoft Active Directoryenvironment and one blade is used as a testing environment for the ITS department. This meansthat 19 blade servers, between the two chassis, are configured for the Citrix-based, applicationhosting environment. The cost, in 2009, to BCIT for a single IBM BladeCenter H chassis was $36,278 CDN.The cost for 14, eight-core server blades with 48GB of memory was $119,462. This equates to$8,533 per blade. The costs for the chassis and blades included fiber optic channeling andconnectivity to the storage area network (SAN). BCIT had sufficient rack space to house thechassis. One blade in each chassis is dedicated to running Citrix Provisioning Services.Provisioning Services are installed in a Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 hypervisor. ProvisioningServices provides for the dynamic delivery of Citrix XenApp environments to client computers.The Provisions Services on each blade communicate with one another to manage virtual andphysical server workloads across the remaining 17 blade servers. There is no cost associated withProvisioning Services. Each of the 17 blade servers runs Citrix XenServer virtualization software using the Xenhypervisor. Most of the virtual machines that have been created to run on a XenServer are builtusing Windows Server 2008 as the operating system. Applications are installed in the WindowsServer along with Citrix XenApp. Each of the 17 hosting blades is capable of running twelve,
47Windows Server 2008 virtual machines or between 24 to 40 Windows XP virtual machinessimultaneously. XenServer is a free application from Citrix, but XenApp is licensed. BCIT has a Campus Agreement with Microsoft. Under the 2008-2009 licensingagreement, a single Windows Server (Enterprise) license running in a Citrix environment costs$186 CDN. The license allows four virtual machines running a physical box to share onelicense. The license agreement includes licensing for the Vista (Enterprise) operating system onclient workstations. It does not include licensing for Windows XP. Vista licenses are $21 each.The cost for Microsoft Office (Enterprise) per workstation is $28. The licensing for Vista andOffice is based on a total of 1,800 workstations on campus. Citrix XenApp is a virtual application delivery system that virtualizes applications.XenApp is a management layer on a blade server that bundles a virtualized application anddelivers it to the XenServer environment. XenApp provides terminal services between clientsand services using Citrix‟s Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocol. XenApp isactivated when a user requests a virtualized application. XenApp is licensed from Citrix. The price for 200 licenses was $63,168 USD and oneyear of support was $6,158 in 2008. Currently, BCIT has 1,000 XenApp licenses. This equatesto approximately $70 per XenApp license. Each blade server is connected to a SAN. The SAN is a Hitachi AMS 2500 data systemconsisting of 480 disk drives. Each drive is 450GB. The SAN provides hard drive space foreach virtual machine used by the blade servers. The author was unable to obtain a price for the
48Hitachi data system at the time this paper was written. However, the price for a 450GB drive isapproximately $310 UDS.4 All of the XenServers and virtual machines are managed using a Windows clientapplication called Citrix XenCenter. XenCenter is installed on a remote, Windows host that hasconnectivity to a XenServer blade. XenCenter also provides performance statistics related tovirtual machine management. Remote access to the virtual server environment is managed using Citrix NetScaler.NetScaler provides web application delivery and load balancing services for external access tothe virtual server environment. NetScaler is also used to provide business continuity between theBurnaby campus of BCIT and the downtown Vancouver campus. There are two NetScalersinstalled on the Burnaby campus and one at the downtown campus. Each NetScaler costsapproximately $1,500 CDN, including hardware, licensing, and support. A workstation that requests access to the hosted, virtualized application must have CitrixXenClient installed. XenClient provides a local virtual desktop environment in which thevirtualized application runs. The XenClient is a client hypervisor and communicates withXenServer using the ICA protocol. XenClient is currently free of charge. The original three chassis, 42 blades, Citrix-based, virtual server environment took ITSdepartment staff and consultants approximately two and one-half years to build. This includedinstallation of all hardware and software, networking, testing, et cetera. The ITS manager4 Price retrieved September 15, 2010 from http://www.scsi4me.com/hitachi-ultrastar-15k450-hus154545vls300-450gb-15k-rpm-sas-hard-drive.html
49responsible for the Citrix installation believes the current configuration could be built in threemonths if it were to be built in 2010 by the same employees. In order for BCIT‟s virtual server environment to host virtual machines for the SE12-306,Citrix Lab Manager would need to be installed on one of the XenServers (Citrix Systems, Inc.,2010). Lab Manager is a Web-based application that automates virtual lab setup. Lab Manageris used manage virtual machine configurations, operating systems disk images, and relatedsoftware packages. Lab Manager is also available free of charge. The author teaches a class in Windows Server 2008 systems administration. The authorbuilds a single virtual machine containing three instances of Windows Server 2008 and twoinstances of Windows 7. Each student gets their own virtual machine to use for the duration ofthe course. The size of the single virtual machine containing the five instances of Windowsoperating systems is approximately 30GB. There are two sections of 23 students each taking the author‟s course in the SE12-306lab. This means there are a total of 72 instances of Windows Server 2008 and 48 instances ofWindows 7 installed for each set. Two sets of the virtual machines are installed on each of the24 workstations in the lab. (One workstation is for the instructor.) The total disk space requiredfor two sets of virtual machines on each workstation is approximately 60GB. A single blade server in the hosted virtual server environment can run approximately 12Windows Server virtual machines or between 24 to 40 Windows XP virtual machinessimultaneously. Using these estimates, it would require approximately eight blade servers tohost 72 instances of Windows Server and 48 instances of Windows 7, running simultaneously, tooperate the lab for the author‟s Windows Server administration course.