Towards a Cloud Enabled University Computer Center

Joint work with M. Karampatsis and P. Potikas

An educational environment must constantly keep up with the ever-changing Information Technologies, so computer center administrators of universities must overcome the increasingly expensive effort of providing such up to date facilities. National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), is a technical university where students practice handson in computer laboratories as an essential complement to lectures they attend. NTUA’s computer laboratories have to be highly flexible and configurable for a wide range of applications, from the implementation of a wide range of computer networks up to incorporation of computeraided engineering/manufacturing (CAE/CAM) softwares. Traditional system and network adminis tration practices are usually complicated in terms of configuration and maintenance and generally lack flexibility and scalability.

We discuss the architecture of a personalized cloudbased solution for the specific needs of educational institutions. The goals are high utilization of resources and minimization of the administration effort needed to maintain physical laboratories, achieved by the centralized integration of computing, storage, network and application facilities. Such a centralized integra- tion utilizes the high speed network interconnections inside the university campus and takes advantage of the broadband technologies that are globally available outside of it. We introduce NTUA’s “Central CloudFront” (CCF) as a proof of concept of the proposed architecture.

Introduction

Computer Centers and Laboratories in Universities are generally implementing educational environments by providing access to up to date Information Technologies (IT). Since the IT are constantly changing, Computer Center Administrators carry the burden of the increasingly expensive effort of providing such, up to date, facilities. The day-to-day requirements vary from the installation of diverse operating systems or new softwares, software upgrades and patches up to the management of permissions and authorizations of user’s access to softwares and systems.

The Cloud Computing concept seemed a considerable solution for the NTUA’s IT administration challenges. The ultimate goal was to minimize administration as well as optimize resource usage in such a way that NTUA’s infrastructure behind The Cloud could satisfy different user requirements. NTUA’s users would not need to install any applications on their computers, they would just use cloud services. The only requirements would be a web browser, an internet connection and a modest-sized computer. All the processing and special needs would be provided via The Cloud.

NTUA’s Computer Center introduced Central CloudFront (CCF) as a Cloud-enabled educational environment. We discuss the CCF architecture and the way that the Cloud environment is personalized to meet the users’ needs. Our approach follows well established practices of Cloud providers and fulfills their main requirements. CCF provides easy and transparent direct access to resources and services to NTUA members, as opposed to traditional cumbersome practices. The result was higher utilization of resources and less administrative effort for the end users and lab staff. Furthermore an economy of scale was achieved.

CCF is already successfully used in NTUA’s undergraduate and graduate curriculum, as well in research. Every member of NTUA has direct personalized access to the University’s Computer Center facilities and services, by simply using a web browser. CCF integrates computing power, specialized software for engineers, general purpose software and highly available storage into a common environment. It provides the means to incorporate specialized software like ANSYS, Abaqus, Matlab in courses while allowing students to experiment with the given software, on their own.