Case Study: Making the Transition to a Virtual Classroom in the Cloud
Virtual Classroom in the Cloud - A good training program can make or break the success of a software product. VDIworks takes every possible step to provide the most interactive, real-world training courses to its learners because when its partners and customers leave the lab, their ability to understand, sell, and support VDIworks products will have a direct impact on the bottom line.
After VDIworks spun-off from PC blade manufacturer ClearCube Technology, it had the opportunity to completely revamp its training program. This separation gave the company greater flexibility and responsibility to upgrade the training program. With a $10,000 budget, the training and development team embarked on a mission to take its programs into the 21st century.
Planning the move
My first piece of advice for anyone tasked with redesigning a training program on a limited budget is to come up with a short list of measurable goals for the project. In our case, VDIworks wanted to accomplish four goals:
- offer a remote training option for learners who could not travel on-site
- create a new delivery option for end users
- reduce operating and maintenance costs on a per class basis
- launch the new program within 30 days.
When setting goals, it’s crucial that the team remains realistic. However, don’t sacrifice the long-term usability of the program to save a few bucks.
For example, based on feedback from partners, we knew the program had to work beyond the physical constraints of our classroom in Austin, Texas. In addition, it had to retain all if not more of the interactive elements we provide in face-to-face classes.
Because VDIworks develops fairly sophisticated technology products, we wanted to make sure the online learners received all of the benefits of being on-site, such as hands-on training with multiple servers running integrated software applications.
Equally important, because we are responsible for all aspects of the training program—from setting up the lab to writing course material—we wanted to make sure none of these goals would require additional headcount or after-hours support. Managing the resources of a training lab is a full-time job, never mind the time it takes to develop new courses and training documentation.
Assessing roadblocks and challenges
Once we established the goals of the program, we took an honest look at some of the challenges and roadblocks we were facing. For us, the 30-day deadline and $10,000 budget were two primary constraints, among other barriers that would need to be addressed.
For example, knowing that all of the maintenance, configuration, and course development would continue to be our responsibility, we wanted to create a program that would enable on-demand provisioning.
This is important because the VDIworks lab consists primarily of emerging software that requires updates each time a new build or patch is released. If we didn’t find a solution that matched that criteria we would likely spend unnecessary time updating software—rather than managing learning solutions.
The online requirements would be a challenge to fulfill as well. At the time, our only training option was a $3,000, five-day on-site training course at VDIworks headquarters. Creating a new class from scratch in a traditional online courseware format would require a significant investment in time and resources.
As if adding classes and distance options during a 30-day period weren’t challenging enough, we also needed to keep the cost per class and prep time to a minimum. Without some degree of automation to conduct rapid build and configurations, the project would be nearly impossible to execute.
VDIworks is probably the hardest customer to please, and the worst critic given our background in virtualization software development. When it came to choosing a solution, we wanted only the best for our training lab.
The first technology we considered was server virtualization management software, but those products only addressed half of what we wanted to accomplish. More important, the up-front capital investment and lack of on-demand capabilities were definite deal-breakers.
We didn’t just want virtual machines on a public server; we wanted a completely interactive distance learning option to go with it. Our vision was to take virtualization to the next level with this program.
After looking at stand-alone virtualization platforms and distance learning tools, we found Skytap (http://www.skytap.com). Skytap’s Virtual Lab “in the cloud” satisfied all of our requirements.
The virtualization component required no additional investments in hardware or software, and the on-demand delivery model was our answer to the distance learning challenge.
Built-in templates and automation capabilities alleviated our concern about spending excessive time and money on procuring, maintaining, and updating software configurations for the lab. And, the convenience of accessing Skytap’s library of pre-configured virtual machines for such purposes as revising course materials without having to purchase and install the hardware and software in our physical lab was a big plus.
With remote virtualization, we can easily access the lab through a browser and quickly choose from a menu of options to create the various hardware, operating systems, software applications, and version numbers needed for each specific course.
At the push of a button, Skytap lets learners instantly generate that configuration onto their desktop—whether they are sitting in the classroom or half-way around the world in Tokyo. Additionally, Skytap’s learning management system and template-driven interface has proven to be a huge time saver.
Measuring the ROI
Skytap gave us the solution we needed to accomplish all of our objectives with a limited budget, and launch a new training program in record time. Our learners are excited about using the new solution, and we’ve been able to lower our tuition rates by 66 percent.
My productivity has also improved—my group can set-up and tear-down complex, multi-tiered environments 90 percent faster. And the new program facilitates collaboration across globally distributed teams using a shared virtual infrastructure.
If you’re ready to take your technology training program into the cloud but are unsure of how to get there, hopefully these experiences will give you some pointers on where to begin and what to consider. Making the shift from a physical brick and mortar training lab into an efficient, state-of-the-art virtual lab can be easier and more affordable than you think.
Keyword : training, program, lab, training program, training lab, distance learning