Streaming Higher Education Apps to College Students

At Hudson County Community College, virtual desktops are helping busy students to access robust compute resources on the go.

By Calvin Hennick

By Calvin Hennick May 28, 2024

Many people likely have the misconception that all college students have ready access to a powerful late-model laptop. But at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) in New Jersey, which serves an urban, largely Hispanic population, many students rely on the school for access to compute resources.

“We find that most students have smartphones,” said Patricia Clay, associate vice president and chief information officer at the school, where nearly 60 percent of students speak a language other than English at home. 

“Many of our students were trying to do college on their smartphones. But if you envision trying to write an essay on your phone, you’ll end up throwing it against the wall.”

HCCC serves around 18,000 degree-seeking undergraduate, continuing education, and workforce development students, offering degrees or certifications in fields including nursing, sociology, criminal justice, electrical engineering and culinary arts.

While the community college did have computer labs with physical PCs when Clay arrived, IT leaders found that this model was expensive to support. Even more importantly, it was inconvenient for students, explained Clay. The only machines loaded with certain powerful science applications, for instance, were located in the school’s STEM building, around 30 minutes from another of HCCC’s campuses. 

“If you were a STEM student based at our North Hudson campus, you could not interact with those applications without traveling to our Journal Square campus,” Clay says. “That was bad for everyone. I would call it 20th-century thinking…the idea that if you’re a biology major, you’re going to be in the STEM building every day.”

Clay led the effort to virtualize HCCC’s computer labs. In early 2020, the school rolled out a pilot program, running virtual machines powered by Nutanix AHV and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). Soon after, the school was forced to rapidly scale up this virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) investment to support remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. VDI makes applications an on-demand service by streaming them from a data center through the internet to students’ laptops or other devices. HCCC still relies on VDI to provide their busy student population with flexible, secure computing resources, no matter where they are.

Support for Flexible Learning

During the pandemic, HCCC supplied Chromebooks to students to enable remote learning, and the school continues to loan out around 1,700 laptops to students who lack a device. Thanks to the VDI environment, students can use the inexpensive Chromebooks essentially as thin clients to access the much more robust compute resources of the virtual machines.


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“Student use of computer labs has grown over the past several years, but it’s still not back to pre-pandemic levels,” Clay said. 

“Many of our students are still borrowing Chromebooks and using virtual desktops because they need the flexibility. A lot of our students are also parents, or they work full-time, and the logistics of picking up your kid from school, dropping them off at somebody’s house, and getting to the college, sometimes that just doesn’t work. So, a lot of our students are still taking remote classes and completing their work remotely.”

The combination of Chromebooks and VDI running on Nutanix helps HCCC to bridge the gap for students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the tech tools they need to succeed. The Chromebooks alone would have allowed students to browse online and utilize Google Apps. However, the devices would not have been able to access a number of important resources, including the school’s Microsoft 365 environment, without the virtual desktop environment.


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When Clay first came to HCCC, she suggested that the financial aid office partner with IT vendors to offer students deals on laptops with their financial aid refunds, but she was told that this would not work. “Our students live off their refunds,” she says. “They need that money to pay for housing.”

Scalable, Cost-Effective Computing

Along with expanding access for student computing, Clay said, the school’s Nutanix investment has paid off in the form of improved security, streamlined management, cost reductions, and scalability.

On the security front, the Chromebooks themselves are virtually immune to being hacked, and the VDI model has its own inherent security benefits due to the standardization of computing resources and the ability to maintain a “golden image” for virtual machines.


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Clay suggested implementing VDI at several previous stops in her career, but she always encountered resistance to the initial investment in data center infrastructure required to support the model. However, Clay says that it will cost HCCC less money over the long run to set up and support its VDI environment than it would to continually buy new PCs for computer labs.

“The math will tell you that you’re a lot better off doing the virtual environment,” she said. “We could put money into buying 500 computers, which we’d have to replace every five years, or we can put that money into our Nutanix environment.” 

Clay points out that support costs are also lower for virtual machines. 

“It’s hard to quantify, but it really does lower costs. When we have updates, I don’t have to send a team of two people out to update every single machine, which is what we were doing before.”

The scalability of VDI has allowed HCCC to rapidly expand compute resources without buying new devices, when needed. For instance, the school recently adopted Adobe Creative Cloud. Rather than buying new MacBook Pros to support users, the school simply added memory and GPUs to its existing Nutanix environment.

“Before, we would have had to buy high-end laptops, based on the preferences of faculty members,” Clay said. “Now, instead of going out and buying really expensive individual devices, we can scale out and increase our capacity with our existing infrastructure.”

Editor’s note: Learn more about the Nutanix Cloud Platform, End User Computing and solutions for education providers.

Calvin Hennick is a contributing writer. His work appears in BizTech, Engineering Inc., The Boston Globe Magazine and elsewhere. He is also the author of Once More to the Rodeo: A Memoir. Follow him @CalvinHennick.

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