University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh: Workspace Management By Students, For Students

When its traditional PC environment could no longer provide the mobility and rapid application access these users needed, IT implemented virtual desktops. To prevent the same application and image management challenges from recurring in VDI, they implemented Unidesk.

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

"Life without Unidesk is hard to imagine now. I’d probably have to hire 4 or 5 more people. I currently have 1 student managing all of the day-to-day tasks in our end user computing environment. The time savings are innumerable – days, weeks, months. I can’t foresee a world without using it."

Eamon Bauman
Systems Administator, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, located in the city ranked “Best Place to Raise Your Kids” by Business Week, is the third largest college in the state, with over 16,000 students and 900 employees boasting the Titans’ black and gold.


The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh's snowy winters.

The IT team for the Department of Residence Life at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh works with a variety of different users, all with different use cases: a student using a residence hall computer lab, staff members working on their office computers, or faculty needing access to their data while across campus or at home.

When its traditional PC environment could no longer provide the mobility and rapid application access these users needed, IT implemented virtual desktops.  To prevent the same application and image management challenges from recurring in VDI, they implemented Unidesk.  Today, any application can be packaged and delivered in near real-time, giving IT time back for other projects, and giving users the personal, productive Windows workspaces that they need to maximize the learning experience.

Challenge: Application Mobility for Users, Application Simplicity for IT

Like many universities with traditional PC computing environments, users were dependent on their own hardware. That dependency meant that if a machine crashed, it could be a week before the user had the machine back. Software update issues could also cause similar downtime.  

There were also limited opportunities for personalization – everyone received a “frozen” computer except for a few users who were allowed to have a “thawed” machine for user-installed apps.

Overall, traditional PCs weren’t meeting the application availability needs of the staff and students. 

Managing the PCs wasn’t an easy task for IT either.

Explains Systems Administrator Eamon Bauman, “We were stuck with trying to create that perfect Windows image, where you had to install any application anyone could need on the image all at the same time, and then deploy it to everybody. Even if a user didn’t need Visual Studio, they were still going to get it because it’s in the image, and everyone gets that one image.”

When licensing costs and complicated troubleshooting made one image impractical, the IT team soon found itself creating many images, which made delivery of new applications and Windows updates more time-consuming.

The UW Oshkosh IT team decided to implement VDI to offer its Residence Life users easy access to their desktops regardless of location or what machine they were on. However, deploying VDI without any solution to manage applications and images would not help IT. 

Eamon remarks, “I didn’t want to drag our application and image management challenges with us into VDI. I wanted less management work for us, with fewer images to take care of and easier app and Windows updates.”

Solution: VDI for Desktops, Unidesk for Applications

The IT team discovered Unidesk, the package-once, deliver-anywhere application packaging and lifecycle management solution. By pairing VMware Horizon for desktop virtualization with Unidesk for application and workspace management, they could achieve all of their objectives.

Instead of building apps into images, Unidesk enables any application to be packaged as its own virtual disk layer with just a regular installation.  Layers can be assigned to any user in any combination, leading administrators to compare using Unidesk to grocery shopping –  simply pick and choose what apps and what version of Windows each user should have, and they get it.

Eamon found the Unidesk implementation to be very simple. He recalls, “It was so quick, I sat down with a sandwich and soup, and finished the initial deployment over my lunch break.”

He also found Unidesk to be the one solution capable of delivering all applications, including apps like Google Chrome, Video Surveillance Playback, StarRez Housing Management, and Adobe Creative Cloud.

Says Eamon, “We hear all the time from other schools that they can’t package this app or that app.  Why use an app management solution that can’t manage all of your apps?  That’s a big reason we chose Unidesk.  It’s the only solution that layers from Windows on up, so it can package any app.  It’s just not worth having to go back to putting apps into an image – that’s what we’re trying to get away from.”

Today, all residence hall computer labs at UW Oshkosh are running virtual desktops with applications managed by Unidesk. Ever-mobile students can access their desktops from any machine on campus, and staff can do the same.

Explains Eamon, “VDI and Unidesk have been so successful in the Department of Residence life that we are currently working on a centralized deployment to serve the rest of campus staff and faculty.”


Aerial view of The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh's campus.

Simplicity and Efficiency for IT

Before Unidesk, Patch Tuesday was an all-day affair, with system administrators spending their entire day updating Windows and apps across 9 different images. Once updated, if the patch was bad, there would be significant downtime required to fix that patch.

Now with Unidesk layers, Windows and applications can be selectively updated once in less than an hour and pushed out to all users.  The virtual disks representing each layer are attached to the desktops as needed and merged together using Unidesk’s patented file system and registry virtualization technology, making Windows and the applications appear locally installed. Any layer can be rolled back to a previous version if there is a bad patch to instantly fix problems and avoid downtime.

Says Eamon, “The university has continued to grow, and so have our application needs. If I didn’t have Unidesk to abstract a lot of the tough work away, we wouldn’t be able to keep up.”

Management By Students, For Students

Something else remarkable - and unexpected - occurred when the UW Oshkosh IT staff began utilizing Unidesk: much of the management of the VDI environment could be delegated to student interns who were helping out in the Residence Life IT department.

Comments Eamon, “I currently have one student managing all of the day-to-day tasks in our end user computing environment, and that’s really due to Unidesk.  Tier 2 and Tier 3 IT managers aren’t bothered with routine requests for new apps anymore.  Once they create the layers, our student interns and helpdesk can assign them. Unidesk has allowed our IT staff to focus on more strategic and complex initiatives.”    

The time savings from quick patching are also substantial.

Eamon explains, “We don’t have to worry about creating perfect gold images anymore.  We just install an app once to create a layer and then we can stack them in any combination.  It has eliminated probably 85% of the work associated with getting apps ‘just right’ for our users -Unidesk has made Windows desktops a much more manageable workload for us, and we can provide a better service to our users.”

Residence Life users agree and readily sing the praises of the new environment.  Instead of getting frustrated by long delays when they request new applications or have a desktop issue, new apps are delivered in hours and downtime is virtually non-existent. 

Eamon concludes, “Life without Unidesk is hard to imagine now. I’d probably have to hire 4 or 5 more people. It simplifies everything we do related to the end user computing experience. The time savings are innumerable – days, weeks, months. I can’t foresee a world without using it”.

Deployment Details

  • Application Management
    Unidesk
  • Storage
    EMC
  • Server
    HP
  • EUC Platform
    VMware Horizon
  • Application Layers
    59
  • More Info
  • 1 Windows OS Gold Image

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