How Alabama A&M Leveraged Private Cloud for Remote Work During COVID-19

How Dr. Damian Clarke, CIO of Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU), and his IT team rolled out Nutanix Frame desktop-as-a-service during the pandemic, quickly empowering their remote workers without interruption. He built a private cloud to service the needs of his school and other historically black colleges and universities.

By Brian Carlson

By Brian Carlson May 01, 2020

Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU), a historical black college and university (HBCU) community educational institution, has a visionary CIO who built a private cloud prior to COVID-19. While many leaders can plan for a crisis, Dr. Damian Clarke acted early to prepare his college and other HBCUs with modern technologies that were able to keep professors, students and administrators moving forward even after the pandemic shut down business as usual.

By building the school’s IT on flexible hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), Dr. Clarke and his small tech team at AAMU could quickly scale up the number of remote desktops and keep hundreds of high-priority employees connected to education and business applications while they remained at home during the pandemic.

What made that possible was Dr. Clarke’s determination to modernize existing IT infrastructure so it could support growing digital needs at AAMU and beyond. Despite being like many other universities burdened by federal budget cuts and student debt, Dr. Clarke found ways to bring digital transformation to the HBCU, which consists of over 100 public and private schools, some predating the American Civil War. Like just about every other university in the world, AAMU was relying more on digital technologies to operate. Dr. Clarke saw first hand the growing demand for remote work and distance learning.

“When we decided to move from a converged to a hyper-converged system, we wanted an infrastructure that could satisfy all our needs at Alabama A&M, and we wanted it to be scalable in such a way that we could provide services to other HBCUs,” said Dr. Clarke.

When the coronavirus was formally classified a pandemic, AAMU closed its campus, leaving staff and students with no way to interact other than digitally. That was when Dr. Clarke and his team, which worked with Nutanix to build their private cloud data center, turned to Nutanix Frame, a desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) solution, to enable employees to stream school applications to their computing devices remotely.

“Even before this coronavirus issue came about, we were looking at virtual desktops,” he said. “But because of the lack of broadband within the university, we didn't look at it much further. We started looking at Xi Frame because we don't want to do a VPN solution. We wanted a more compact, isolated and containerized solution for our end users.”

Within a few days of initiating Xi Frame’s desktop-as-a-service, AAMU’s business and finance departments, legal departments, IT and administrators all had remote access to applications and data to do their jobs.

“Nutanix Frame enables us to give our users a secure desktop experience so that they can stay productive,” Dr. Clarke said. “It gives staff access to all our internal resources they require to continue to support our students and campus community.”

In terms of general use for non-high priority users, CIO Clarke uses single-sign-on (SSO), making it easy for approved users to access the apps and data they need.

“We are looking at DaaS as a secure containerized zone,” said Dr. Clarke.

“We were able to roll out Nutanix Frame in a matter of days, and smoothly integrated it into our SSO solution. We have opened up access to 120 high priority users and can continue to respond to new demands as the situation evolves.”

Try Nutanix Frame Desktop-as-a-Service free for 30 days.

Brian Carlson is a contributing writer. He is Founder of RoC Consulting and was Editor-in-Chief of CIO.com and EE Times. Follow him on Twitter @bcarlsonDM.

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