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Academic Cloud and the Digital Skills Boom

Academic Cloud and the Digital Skills Boom

Published 03-02-22

Submitted by VMware

Rich Weeks (NDG), Kelly Caudle (SCC), Dr. Jorge Crichigno (USC) and Jessamine Chin (VMware)

It’s no surprise that high tech digital skills are in high demand. To keep up with the more-than-ever geographically distributed workforce, organizations are distributing workloads across multiple clouds. Meanwhile, the Internet of Things means more people are connected on more devices with users looking to edge-fast services to meet their needs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology job markets are expected to grow 13% in the next decade with much of that growth attributed to demand in cloud computing, big data collection and storage, and cybersecurity.1

With that growth, higher learning institutions are seeing a parallel rise in demand for better, less resource-intensive ways to teach key digital skills. Enter the Academic Cloud. The Academic Cloud offers shared tech and server resources across institutions to expand reach to students while providing lower maintenance and management costs. It provides a highly scalable, realistic, hands-on learning solutions that students and instructors can access 24/7.

The components of the Academic Cloud are simple. VMware software licenses are overlaid with a powerful software suite of lab applications by Network Development Group (NDG). The software and virtual lab environment are then united, hosted and managed by an academic institution. I virtually caught up with the two organizations behind the Academic Cloud tech and two colleges putting it into practice. Rich Weeks (NDG), Kelly Caudle (SCC), Dr. Jorge Crichigno (USC) and Jessamine Chin (VMware) sat down with me to share their take on the impact of the Academic Cloud on the current digital skills boom.

Can you share how NDG and VMware work together to create the Academic Cloud?

Rich Weeks (NDG): I would say that first and foremost, it’s the combination of NDG lab management software (NDG online portal and NETLAB+) with VMware’s donated evaluation software licenses and multi-cloud solutions (ESXi hypervisor and vCenter) that enable academic institutions to host complex labs for information technology and cyber education. These are unique solutions that together allow academic institutions that are willing to collaborate to create their own scalable and cost-effective Academic Cloud.

What do you see as the main advantages of the Academic Cloud?

Rich Weeks (NDG): There’s really quite a long list of things that make the Academic Cloud special. For starters, academic institutions, especially those departments with lab-heavy curriculum, often find themselves struggling with budgets. It’s in those resource-intensive and resource-constrained lab environments where the Academic Cloud really comes through. It provides researchers, professors and instructors compute resources for hands-on career skills that may otherwise be cost prohibitive given limited or expiring funding. So, in an example where servers and management are set up and performed at a host location, the startup and maintenance costs are shared across multiple institutions, reaching large numbers of geographically disparate learners. Working with VMware, USC and SCC, this model is cost effectively hosting complex, expensive labs, like introduction to data center virtualization, that may otherwise not be available to learners who are economically challenged or attending institutions that do not have funds for a lab setup. Why is this important? High schools participating in the VMware IT Academy can teach important core technical skills using real world data center labs aligned to VMware courses.

As far as the students are concerned, the Academic Cloud allows for the creation of very realistic hands-on labs to challenge learners. Students work on labs where things break and they need to fix them. They get stuck and have to work through real-life scenarios to get un-stuck. Everything about the learner experience is similar to what they’ll face out in the real world.

And there’s always, of course, the classic case for optimal server utilization. Servers are expensive resources that often go under-utilized. With virtualization running, the shared system resources mean equipment idle time is significantly reduced.

If Stanly Community College (SCC) wasn’t leveraging the Academic Cloud, how would things be different for the college? For students?

Kelly Caudle (SCC): Stanly Community College is a very small school in rural North Carolina. Without the Academic Cloud and the VMware Academic Software Licenses that support the cloud and our other NDG NETLAB+ systems, SCC students would be technological have-nots. Additionally, so would the literally hundreds of thousands who have been able to take part in labs through our academic data center in the cloud. Without the VMware Academic Software Licenses, our data center would not exist and students in partner programs like the VMware IT Academy vSphere courses requiring lots of compute resources for labs may struggle to have a real-world learning experience. Stanly Community College uses our academic data center to change the lives of local students and remote students on a daily basis. This is all made possible through our partnerships with companies like NDG and VMware. The VMware Academic Software Licenses are really the glue that holds together our entire academic hands-on virtual learning environment.

How does the Academic Cloud impact the University of South Carolina (USC) and its students?

Dr. Jorge Crichigno (USC): The technology used by the Academic Cloud has unique features that are really unmatched in the marketplace. The Academic Cloud enables our university to continue offering access to laboratory exercises to our students in a variety of courses. It turns out that the timing of the Academic Cloud deployment was key, as physical laboratories that are used for face-to-face offerings weren’t available anymore once the pandemic erupted. The platform and our NETLAB+ system enabled the migration of physical laboratories to virtual laboratories, without compromising any rigor or hands-on activities. The platform made the migration of physical laboratories to virtual laboratories possible, without compromising any rigor or hands-on activities.

The Academic Cloud and NETLAB+ platforms combined with the VMware software licenses serve multiple purposes and programs here at the University of South Carolina and our partner institutions. Information technology, cyber intelligence, computer science, and computer information systems all regularly use our Academic Cloud or NETLAB+. Additionally, our PhD students and collaborators at institutions like the University of South Florida and the University of Texas at San Antonio, use the platform to conduct PhD research and develop innovative solutions to significant engineering problems. We’ve seen the results of this work published in top journals and shared at conferences around the world.

What do you see as the biggest impact of the Academic Cloud?

Jessamine Chin (VMware): Equity is one of the three outcomes that we’re focused on for VMware’s 2030 agenda. We believe that technology plays a critical role in building a digital future that is equitable, accessible and inclusive. And we see the Academic Cloud as a great example of how our technology can provide more equitable access and opportunity to students, instructors and researchers around the world.

Our partnership with the University of South Carolina, Stanly Community College and NDG demonstrates how the Academic Cloud provides a platform for individuals and other academic institutions to access learning resources like labs, content and research that they may otherwise not been able to afford. For students and instructors, this provides access to additional support to gain valuable job skills like data center virtualization or cloud concepts.

Can you share why partnering with colleges and universities is so important to VMware?

Jessamine Chin (VMware): VMware has a long history of working closely with colleges and universities, beginning with our founders who pioneered virtual machines at Stanford University, to our partnerships today that help students build the capabilities to advance their careers and the field of IT overall.

Also, sustainability has long been inherent in our technology solutions. As companies virtualize their digital operations, they benefit from lower costs, increased flexibility and more resilience — but also a reduced carbon footprint. In fact, VMware has helped its customers avoid more than 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions to date.

The world demands more from us, so we’re pushing ourselves to redefine what a sustainable digital future means. And part of that future involves realigning our business model around multi-cloud and SaaS. We know that the students coming out of these educational institutions and programs today will be the key talent to help VMware progress this vision, as well as enable VMware customers to advance zero carbon goals.

The Academic Cloud is fueling universities’ computer science labs and research efforts. Students at those institutions are experiencing an unmatched introduction into virtualization and multi-cloud concepts, while gaining deep skills that will fill a growing IT need in the industry.

Is your institution adapting to meet the needs of this current digital skills boom? Take the next step to learn more about creating an Academic Cloud for your institution and students. To learn more about how your institution could benefit from VMware solutions, check out the IT Academy for research, webinars, software licenses and more.

1U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


VMware IT Academy

The VMware IT Academy provides students with the skills and education needed to succeed in a software‑defined future. IT Academy creates a collaborative relationship with academic institutions around the world and provides them with software content, labs, and course materials developed by VMware. This enables their students to become more knowledgeable on VMware technology and better equipped with technical skills to advance their careers.

Network Development Group (NDG)

NDG’s mission is to help people develop technology job skills. They partner with academic programs, academic institutions, industry, government and nonprofits to help learners develop the skills necessary to be employed. NDG’s remote access training solutions, NDG Online and NETLAB+, enable learners worldwide to develop IT skills and prepare for rewarding careers.

Stanly Community College

Stanly Community College is an accredited two-year public institution, located just outside of Charlotte, NC, offering a variety of seated and online college degrees. The Network Management curriculum at Stanly Community College prepares individuals for employment supporting network infrastructure environments. Students will learn how to use technologies to provide reliable transmission and delivery of data, voice, image and video communications in business, industry and education.

University of South Carolina

Founded in 1801, the university is located in Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. The Department of Integrated Information Technology at the University of South Carolina is at the forefront of information technology and health informatics. They offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs led by outstanding faculty. Their research focuses on the areas of cyber infrastructure, database systems, data analytics, health information technology and human-computer interaction.

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