Virtual Computer Lab offers convenient tech services

Courtesy of Fullerton.edu

For many students at Cal State Fullerton, there are two things that are coveted above all else: the need of a quiet place to study and affordability. Unfortunately, computer software is not cheap and computer labs can be both crowded and distracting.

However, with the CSUF Virtual Computer Lab (VCL), students can now use a variety of programs on their PC or Mac at any time of day at any location where the Internet is available.

The VCL, run by CSUF’s Information Technology Services, has more than 20 types of software available for student and faculty use, including Adobe Photoshop CS5, IBM SPSS 19 and Office 2010 edition.

Along with giving students a chance to use the computer lab facilities at any time, students can also use expensive programs for free.

The system requirements are minimal and can run on both 32 or 64-bit Windows or on Mac operating systems. For use of the VCL on a Mac computer, users must download a remote desktop connection client, which can be found on the FAQ section of the VCL website.

The VCL started out as a project by North Carolina State University and IBM, which was then given to the Apache Software Foundation. In 2010, CSUF was given the chance to gain use of the VCL for student and faculty use.

CSUF then sent network analysts Sepehr Sobbani and Jim O’Dell to North Carolina State University to learn the program.

“In a nutshell, what it does is it allows students, faculty, staff to access computing resources with whatever software we’re allowed to share on campus from anywhere,” said Rommel Hidalgo, senior director for infrastructure services at CSUF. “You can be in a different country, you can be at home and you can be on campus.”

Hidalgo said when signing up for certain programs, students can either choose to log in right away or they can schedule an appointment for a certain date and time.

If the student chooses to use the VCL right away, he or she will have to wait for the programs to be available. If a certain program is being used to capacity, students will be notified that the program is unavailable, similar to waiting in line to use a computer.

The VCL uses the Internet to essentially give students remote control of the computer lab resources without ever needing to actually be in the computer lab.

Jim O’Dell, network analyst and VCL architect, said CSUF is the first campus on the west coast to implement a VCL for student and faculty use and the first campus in the nation to implement the VCL for Mac use.

“It’s quite interesting how it works, essentially what it does is it gives you a remote desktop to a machine that is someplace else,” said O’Dell. “You can sit down, request a reservation of several different image builds. Say you want Windows with SPSS 19 or you want Unix… or you want Mac OS.”

The result gives students the capability to use these programs at any time of the day or night. However, Willie Peng, assistant director for infrastructure services at CSUF, said the specific software that a student can use depends on the major of the student.

Peng also mentioned that the VCL helps the campus cut down on electronic waste since CSUF reuses old, out of warranty computers for VCL purposes. So instead of throwing out relatively new computers, the VCL allows CSUF to reuse the old hardware that is normally not in the computer lab.

“For me the most exciting piece is the reuse of the hardware,” said Peng. “After five years, (computer manufacturers) don’t want to warranty that piece of hardware anymore, but we can put that particular hardware into use… they have enough juice left where we can reuse them in a different way.”

As an added incentive, if a student does not have access to a computer and they are taking a class that uses the VCL, the CSUF computer lab can issue a university-licensed computer.

There is no fee to use the laptop, however there are $25 late fees and a $250 fine for a lost or damaged laptop.

More information about the VCL can be found at Fullerton.edu/vcl.

About Raymond Mendoza