Ayrshire College has introduced a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platform across its three main campuses to support and enhance digital learning, according to head of IT Brad Johnstone.

The south-west Scotland college employs 338 staff and teaches over 5,500 students, and offers further education to school leavers and adults. Its 10-acre Kilmarnock campus was opened by Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, late last year. The technology was also rolled out to the James Watt and Ayr campuses.

Ayrshire chose to partner with IGEL, a German developer and distributor of thin client hardware and software. It bought UD3 thin client terminals for 12 classrooms along with IGEL's Universal Desktop Converter software for 400 new laptops, which converts x86 devices into an IGEL Linux-based thin client.

Rather than installing traditional desktop PCs, the college opted for a Citrix XenDesktop VDI platform, so that students can access their own personal desktop profiles and applications from anywhere on the campus.

Speaking with CIO UK, Johnstone said that the new system will offer flexibility for staff and students, and be more responsive to devices operated within the college.

Before moving to VDI, the college would load applications onto computers in dedicated laboratories or classrooms depending on the curriculum. If the needs of those classrooms or laboratories changed, the college's small on-site IT team would have to manually add or remove applications on the computers.

IT challenges

Johnstone was previously operations manager before being promoted to head of IT in April 2017. He found delivering the new Kilmarknock campus particularly hands-on.

"In the last 18-24 months, it has really been about the new campus and dealing with the amalgamation of all the individual campuses," he explained. "I had real personal challenges with the virtual desktop in delivering and installing the tech while also ensuring what was being delivered was agreed upon in the set timeline."

Another challenge was delivering the project with a restricted budget and getting users familiar with the new platform.

"We wanted to give users the same experience for when they log in, making sure the desktop was more personalised with the applications being specifically designed for that user and subject," he said.

According to Johnstone, the college will introduce the technology to two more of its campuses in future.

"It is the next stage for our students, and giving them the support to uncover the skills and helping them on their journey to ensure they are prepared to leave the college and working life," he said.