The University of the Americas Puebla (UDLAP) is a Mexican institution of higher education. It was founded 80 years ago and is considered as the number one private educational institution in the country with 5 QS stars. The educational institution is home to about 15,000 people, of which 9,000 are undergraduate students. During the pandemic, they chose Awingu to give access to their remote desktop computers to its staff and students.
Virtualizing the computer rooms
“We have a sophisticated ecosystem of digital tools for our students, a library with hundreds of thousands of books available on the internet, collaborative work tools, apps to facilitate work and communication. That makes UDLAP one of the most advanced educational institutions in Latin-America”, says Raul Gonzalez Lopez (Manager of IT Services). Those over 500 different applications – from statistical software to highly specialized engineering programs – are a crucial part of the classes and are available to students via the various computer rooms on campus. “We have over 1000 Windows and Mac devices with these software tools on-campus – some in ‘general’ computer rooms, others in small class-specific rooms with the specific software required for that course.”
Due to COVID-19 the UDLAP campus has been closed for almost a year, and 100% of the courses are given online right now. To give their students access to the software that they need to follow their classes – and which are, of course, a part of the tuition they pay – the university chose Awingu’s digital workspace. In practice, this means that students take over on-campus PCs (as explained in this blog post) from the comfort of their home, with their own device, via a browser. “We had academic staff lobbying for a VPN connection. We consider VPN as a secure tunnel to a potentially insecure computer – it is a potential tunnel for malware and other threats. The IT staff very strongly argued against VPN and looked for a secure and user-friendly alternative – and found Awingu”, Raul says.
“Our institution has only one campus,” says Raul. “We have decided not to have alternate sites, which naturally led us to develop a strong local area data network. The investment, in terms of our academic licensing, is optimized to this technical circumstance. Therefore, last semester we had to adjust to a delicate balance between connectivity security and alternative licensing options in the cloud. While many of our vendors have a cloud offering, there are also loads of legacy applications in our portfolio – meaning that they need to be installed on the device you access.”
Moreover, some of these (often expensive) legacy applications have either a physical license (in the form of a YubiKey) or a license that is linked to a computer’s MAC-address. If students want to use those applications, they can take over that specific device via Awingu. This has another advantage: since the software runs on the powerful university computers, the students are not limited by their own laptop’s horsepower: “a student with a cheap notebook can run heavily demanding applications for educational purposes now – and that is great,” Raul adds. “Furthermore, we don’t need to manage their device and thus don’t lose sleep over what happens on it – if it’s infected with a virus, it will never reach our infrastructure.”
In practice, students log in remotely to a desktop computer via the Awingu platform. UDLAP professors are asked before class to assign computers ‘ready for take-over’ to their students. Because Awingu is simply ‘plugged In’ to the university’s Active Directory, the system uses Awingu’s granular access rights to determine what applications that particular student can access on the device.
Awingu: simple, secure, and innovative
“One of the tasks of the IT department is innovation. We constantly participate in forums, seminars, and review blogs to keep up with the advancement of platforms and new solutions. That is how we found out about Awingu”, Raul says. “An important thing we considered was the security architecture. Simply put: it is easy to use and protects the university network without compromising service to students. And, of course, we also considered Awingu a solution with a better cost-benefit ratio than counterparts available in the market.” Furthermore, Awingu was set up at UDLAP in only a fraction of the time it would cost to set up a competing solution – a crucial element in the rapid switch towards homeworking. “Furthermore, we really enjoyed working with the Awingu support team in setting up the solution. It was all very straightforward, but any question that we might’ve had was immediately answered in a very precise and friendly way.”
Since thousands of students and professors alike have become Awingu power users pretty much overnight, Raul is surprised that he does not face any problems or support tickets: “It rarely happens that someone asks a question – and the staff is unanimously positive about it.” UDLAP’s “Awingu training” is, therefore, minimal: they taught professors how the solution works, and how they need to address it to their students. Afterwards, the professors show their students, and that is that. “At first, the academic staff – especially the older ones – sighed: ‘oh no, a new thing that I need to explain to my students.’,” Raul laughs, “but they were relieved when they saw how simple Awingu is. In fact, I cannot imagine a simpler way to tackle this issue, both for us as admins and for the users. And the students, too, are happy and don’t understand why this wasn’t in-place before corona.” After the training, UDLAP also made bite-sized educational videos available for those that wanted to refresh their memory.
“The institution’s most valuable asset is the faculty and researchers dedicated body and soul to teaching excellence,” Raul concludes, “who, with the correct digital skills and tools such as Awingu, have maintained the prestige of excellence that characterize our face-to-face classes.”