Cloud Computing Leads to a New Generation of Computer Labs

If you’ve ever found yourself getting to school extra early with the hopes of finding an empty computer work station on which to use some school-provided software that you do not have at home, then this may be of particular interest to you. In today’s world of ever-evolving technology, it seems as though anything can happen – and "virtual computer labs" could be the next big thing. An article in Inside Higher Ed reports about the future of computer labs on campus and how and where these "virtual computing labs" have come to life.

These types of labs would essentially be web-based hubs where students can go to use expensive, and sometimes required, software and programs from their personal desktop computers. Codes and programming from the virtual lab take programs and software that run on a college’s hardware and beam the images through the World Wide Web to any computer, allowing students to use the programs as if they were installed on their own computers. In addition, the way the programs and software run do not rely on the computers they are being synched with, so all that is needed is a strong Internet connection. Even students with bigger and older computers would be able to use the advanced software without a problem. This means that students would not have to shell out the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars that software and programs can cost.

Working in a virtual computing lab should be fairly easy and no different from when students work at school from computer labs, except that they would be able to use their own laptops rather than the school’s. Students log in through a secured website which would have a library of different versions of a number of programs that the school offers. The program they select will then appear as a window on the student’s computer where they will be able to use the program as if it were installed on their own computers. Some colleges, such as George Mason, Georgia State, North Carolina State University, Marist College and two other campuses in the California State University system, have already begun to use virtual computing labs.

With many colleges suffering from financial problems and looking to save money, adding virtual labs could be the answer because it would eliminate the costs for updated hardware, space, funds for staffing and maintenance, and other hefty fees that go along with the upkeep and maintenance of traditional computer labs. At George Mason alone, a plan for a new computer lab would cost the university $180,000 at the very least to build, with yearly maintenance fees of an additional $61,000. Instead, the university decided on a virtual lab which cost about $120,000 altogether. However, there is no telling how vendors may decide to charge for software and program usage, especially since there could be a potential for tens of thousands of students accessing the programs. Still, it seems as the number of virtual labs may stand to grow in the near future.

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