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IITS Rolls Out New Virtual Desktop

In the next few weeks, Haverford’s Instructional & Information Technology Services (IITS) will be rolling out a new virtual desktop that will allow students to access lab software from the comfort of their own dorm rooms.

The virtual desktop, which can be accessed using a Haverford login anywhere on campus, can be used on any device with a web browser. This includes PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets, according to Anthony Machamer, IT Senior Project Manager.

“The community is used to being able to do what they need to do, where they need to do it, from many different devices,” said Steve Fabiani, Associate Chief Information Officer. “Students should be able to do the same thing with academic software.”

Fabiani added that some of these programs have previously been cost prohibitive for students who try to download them onto their own devices. Additionally, some software did not work on Macs or took up too much processing power to work on older laptops. The virtual desktop, however, will make the software available to everyone.

Some of the programs accessible from the virtual desktop include MatLab, Mathematica, StatalC 14, and the whole Microsoft Office Suite. Students can also print to any computer labs on campus, including Magill and the campus center.

Fabiani said he wishes he had a program like this in college.

“If I came up with an idea in the middle of the night, I used to have to throw my clothes on and walk to the lab,” he said. …”[With the virtual desktop], if someone has an idea on Mathematica at 3 a.m., he or she can open the software, test it out, roll over and go back to sleep.”

The program is currently in the final stages of its pilot program, in which  students and IITS staff are testing the virtual desktop and providing feedback. IITS plans to begin the full rollout on November 9.

“We really appreciate student [feedback],” said Megan Fitch, Chief Information Officer. “This needs to work well for you guys.”

According to Machamer, the virtual desktop also provides easy maintenance and updates. In the future, IITS will be able to add new software and scale up the number of accessible desktops as needed. Currently there are 50.

The virtual desktop also opens up the possibility of converting to a completely virtual lab, as some other colleges have done. Labs would use regular computers with a virtual lab installed, saving the college a lot of money on new devices without sacrificing computing power.

IITS is “really excited to be able to introduce what we hope will be a very flexible program for students,” said Fitch.

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