In 2022, Collège Ahuntsic continued its transformation to a modern workplace by switching its Citrix workloads to Azure. It was an ambitious project that involved 8 college departments in an effort to create 80 multi-sessions virtual machines. The goal was to make 28 applications from 10 different publishers available to more than 500 students. Here is the summary of this project successfully completed thanks to the collaboration of many actors.
In March 2020, Collège Ahuntsic (like all educational institutions in Quebec) had to adapt quickly to the lockdown measures rolled out across the province.
To allow students to complete their semester, the college’s IT department turned to ITI for help in virtualizing some of its workstations. It was a forward-looking project that inspired a dozen other schools to follow in the college’s footsteps and allowed hundreds of students to access their environments remotely and complete their assignments as usual amid the pandemic.
On the road to an all-cloud environment
For Alexandre Lupien, Chief Information Officer at Collège Ahuntsic, this initiative was the first step in a much broader vision: “We were already interested in giving students cloud-based access to specialized software that would otherwise require extensive hardware resources. The pandemic just accelerated the process.”
The first—and most urgent—phase of the project allowed us to create peer-to-peer virtual desktops using Citrix. The next step, which we completed in the second quarter of 2022, was to shift workloads to Azure.
Big challenge, big payoff
It was an ambitious project that involved 8 college departments in an effort to create 80 multi-session virtual machines. The goal was to make 28 applications from 10 different publishers available to more than 500 students.
For the college, the decision to continue with Citrix was a no-brainer. It was a well-established technology the team was comfortable with and that had delivered results in the first phase. Azure was also a natural fit, because putting Citrix virtual desktops on Azure is so fast, secure, and scalable. This setup also delivers features that often come cheaper than with other solutions on the market. Plus, the fact that the college already had Microsoft Windows licenses was an opportunity for even more savings.
For this new phase, Collège Ahuntsic once again turned to ITI, one of the few IT providers in Quebec specialized in both Citrix and Azure. ITI’s Citrix and Azure teams have hundreds of migration projects under their belts. But the project with the college marked the first time the two seasoned teams worked together on a single job.
According to Michel Charest, Azure Solutions Director and Lead Architect at ITI :
The close collaboration between our teams, our client’s teams, and Ministère de l’Éducation, not to mention the dedication of our Microsoft and Citrix partners, were key factors in the success of this project.
Dealing with deadlines
The public sector has its own rules and even though this project was aligned with the Government of Quebec’s computer data centre consolidation program (Programme de consolidation des centres de traitement informatique [CTI]), all the preliminary steps had to meet the requirements to obtain government approval. Despite the wait, the process went as planned with the help of our technology partners who made sure the proposed solution was compliant.
The current shortage of skilled labour also made it that much harder for ITI to juggle multiple projects, and that led to some delivery delays. Alexandre Lupien and Michel Charest both agree that transparency and respect are crucial in situations like this, because the goal for everyone involved is the same: the success of the project.
Devil in the details
Virtualizing work environments may look simple on paper, but it involves a lot more than just making applications available remotely. While every project comes with its share of surprises, preparation is the key to a successful transition.
As we saw earlier, Collège Ahuntsic wanted to virtualize 28 applications from some ten different publishers. For each application we had to check compatibility with Azure, make the necessary adjustments, and identify which resources were required to deliver the desired performance. Navigating this critical path was a colossal and complex task, but we delivered on our promise with help from Microsoft and Citrix.
Benefits of virtual desktops
Virtualization allows you to install an environment once on a server rather than having to set it up on each and every user’s machine. In addition to drastically reducing deployment time, virtualization simplifies maintenance, since IT administrators only have the server to manage.
These virtual labs also free up physical space—and IT hardware—because students can access their work environments remotely using standard computers.
Needs can fluctuate over time and virtualization on Azure makes it possible to balance workloads in a dynamic and fully automated manner while maintaining performance. For Alexandre Lupien, flexibility and usage-based cost control are two of the biggest advantages the project brings for the College.
The students are completely autonomous and can access their workspaces at any time, without having to actually come to school.
Remote learning made easy
Given the project’s direct impact on Collège Ahuntsic’s teaching staff, teachers got involved in the process very early in the game. They were introduced to this new way of teaching through a series of video tutorials. Faculty buy-in has been phenomenal and has had a direct impact on students, as evidenced by the very high usage rates since the virtual offices went online. Everyone agrees that this project has really simplified and facilitated distance education.
As for Alexandre Lupien, he has no intention of going back to the way things were, and he encourages those still hesitant about the cloud to take the plunge. But the innovation doesn’t end here, as the final phase of the project will be to move from virtual desktops to virtualized applications. This more granular approach will simplify management even more by optimizing the use and cost of licenses. It’s the latest milestone in the shift to a more modern work environment.