McMaster University 1st in the World to Access 3D Design Software

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IGEL, provider of the next-gen edge OS for cloud workspaces, announced that McMaster University in Canada has refreshed its entire desktop estate in its Faculty of Engineering standardizing on powerful IGEL UD3 multimedia endpoints running IGEL OS.

Replacing end-of life thin client terminals from Devon IT and Dell Wyse, IGEL offered the configuration, stability, security and usability the IT team was looking for, with IGEL Universal Management Suite (UMS) providing the critical management capability to control a large number of devices in five buildings. IGEL UD3 endpoints connect to VMware Horizon and support the Blast Extreme Protocol for graphics display – crucial given the widespread use of 3D computer aided design software within the faculty.

Founded in 1887, McMaster University is a public research university based on a 300-acre campus in Hamilton, Ontario – the waterfall capital of Canada. Ranked at 69 in The Times Higher Education World University Rankings, it is home to more than 31,000 students and is an award-winning employer with over 6,000 staff including around 1,000 full-time faculty members.

McMaster University is a pioneer in the use of VDI

With 1,000 students in the first year alone, the Faculty of Engineering is one of the largest faculties at the university and has been a long-term user of virtual desktop infrastructure.

VDI was originally deployed in 2009 when a CAD$48 million six-story glass Engineering Technology Building was constructed which is eco-friendly and energy efficient. To meet LEED gold certification requirements, VDI combined with thin clients solved the challenge of what desktops to install in the main computer lab given noisy, power-hungry PC workstations which generate a lot of heat were not an option.

Michael Curwin, IT manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Engineering, explains, “The HVAC systems would have had to been totally redesigned costing literally millions if we’d used traditional desktops. Clearly that wasn’t realistic plus when you’ve got 55 students in a room, workstations are far too loud and it’s impossible to teach.  Also, our endpoints required a big spec to run processor intensive CAD software from AutoDesk and other ISVs which all first-year students have to learn how to use.”

The IT project team first considered using laptops and Apple iMacs during the proof of concept,. These were rejected in favour of investing in VDI as all the necessary computing power, cooling and EUC management overhead could then be centralized at its datacenter on campus.

Twelve years ago, VDI as a technology was on the cusp of shifting from a hardware to software-centric architecture. Curwin says, “Many people didn’t think you could run CAD over it properly because of latency and jitter with the graphics when you take a 3D object and start spinning it around.  With the support of our IT partners, we got everything working so well that 25 higher education institutions in Canada came to see how we did it.”

Today, the new IGEL UD3 endpoints connect to VMware Horizon running on 20 dedicated virtualized IBM servers, each with two 30 GB graphics cards. NVIDIA virtual GPU technology load-balances this graphics processing power to enhance the user experience of every student connected to the network. A vSAN cluster comprising 160 hard drives also helps speed up the read/write process and data storage.

Elliptical shaped computer lab aids effective teaching

Given the success of VDI over the years, IGEL UD3 endpoints have been installed throughout the five Engineering Faculty buildings with administrative staff using them as well as students. But it is in the main computer lab where VDI and thin clients have really come to the fore.

The lab has an innovative elliptical shaped design – the first in North America – which lets lecturers stand in the middle of the room while students are seated around the edge of the ellipse looking in.  After a presentation, they can then ‘spin around’ in their chairs and work accessing VDI-delivered applications using a IGEL UD3 endpoint connected to a monitor, keyboard and mouse positioned behind. This allows lecturers to stand at their shoulders and provide close guidance as necessary.

Furthermore, when not physically in the lab, 500 VDI licences purchased by the university enable students to log in using any browser-based device like smartphone, Chromebook or iPad to access a virtual Windows 10 desktop and applications like Ansys, MatLab, YouTube and Microsoft Office.  This means they don’t have to buy expensive high-end computers to study and can work from anywhere at any time which has been hugely important during the coronavirus pandemic.

Curwin adds, “As it turned out, we were pandemic prepared and able to support students to do CAD design 24/7. And as we now move to a hybrid learning future – where some students work from home and others are on campus – we have the infrastructure in place to enable this easily.”

The advantages of using IGEL UD3 endpoints are numerous.  Over and above the power and heat consumption benefits, endpoint security is improved and there is a huge amortized cost gain as these solid-state devices last three times as long as a PC or laptop. This results in better use of finite budgets and less IT into landfill. And there are additional ‘soft’ benefits, too. Controlling endpoints is quicker, easier and done remotely, including shadowing, using IGEL UMS with devices ‘locked down’ and auto-configurable if accidently unplugged.

Curwin says, “As much as you can make IT sexy, this is it.  The investment in VDI has really paid off in terms of day-to-day management but also student recruitment.  A year after the computer lab opened, the then provost visited and asked first year students what they thought of it.  Unsolicited an undergraduate said that it was one of the reasons why she came to McMaster University to study which was a beautiful moment for us.”

Ken Shipman, IGEL’s regional sales manager in Canada, says, “McMaster University has become a huge evangelist about the value and benefits of VDI.  They have a high-performance state-of-the-art system for students which – combined with easy to manage and reliable endpoints from IGEL – shows just what a compelling solution it is for academia.”

Image licensed by freepik.com

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