The United Arab Emirates’ Advanced National Research and Education Network, Ankabut, is the largest organization of its kind in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Ankabut supports initiatives in e-learning, library content, distribution systems and research collaboration. It was created through a memorandum of understanding by Khalifa University, the Institute of Applied Technology, UAE University, Zayed University and Higher Colleges of Technology, with the aim of connecting academic institutions to other education networks around the world. Members of Ankabut include universities, K-12 schools, libraries, health and government agencies, and research organizations.
Because the UAE government stresses the importance of technology integration in the nation’s education system, it was vital for Ankabut to upgrade with advanced technologies the entire IT infrastructure of the K-12 schools it supports as a service provider. The main challenge was providing teachers and students with remote access to their curriculums, data and applications to enable on-demand, flexible learning. Coupled with issues around ageing IT infrastructure, high hardware costs and lack of centralized management for data and applications, Ankabut needed to find a solution that would provide more cost-effective IT management. For example, the IT team from Ankabut had to be on site to manage a school’s desktop estate, including implementing software updates and conducting troubleshooting, which in turn caused delays and high manpower costs.
Fahem Al Nuaimi, CEO of Ankabut, explains, “Ankabut’s vision is to improve the fields of education and research in the Middle East by developing state-of-the-art infrastructure that supports smart education and virtual, interactive classrooms. Keeping this in mind, we needed to find a solution that would allow learning at any time, anywhere and from any device, while ensuring security and controlling costs.”
Following a competitive bidding process, Ankabut implemented a Citrix virtualization solution based on XenDesktop and XenApp, becoming the first and only UAE organization that supports a multi-tenant desktop virtualisation setup. As students don’t work from specific desktops, they now have the ability to log into any desktop that is available to access their course materials and data. In addition, both students and teachers can access applications related to course subject matter, such as research links and videos, and connect from any device, anywhere and at any time. The NetScaler platform optimizes, secures and controls delivery of web, mobile and cloud applications.
In its first phase, the virtualization platform was rolled out to 1.600 users in under a year. This has allowed Ankabut to promote independent study and exploratory learning by providing students, faculty and parents with on-demand, secure, mobile access to curriculums. Virtualization enables a flexible learning environment while further increasing user productivity.
The virtual desktop platform has helped Ankabut address the rising costs of PC hardware and the complexities associated with distributed desktop management by removing the need for staff and students to invest in high-performance hardware. By moving to a desktop virtualisation platform, Ankabut has realized up to a 35 per cent reduction in IT expenditure costs across 85 vocational schools that fall under its remit by consolidating the IT operations into its datacenter.
In addition, Ankabut has centralized the management and delivery of graphically intensive apps required for subjects such as engineering and architecture, as there is no longer a requirement to install these apps on individual PCs.
“We now have an advanced e-learning environment based on remote and mobile access to educational resources. This infrastructure has also helped us provide access to advanced learning management tools that allow universities to collaborate globally. The virtualization project is in line with the UAE government’s commitment to driving innovation and progress,” adds Al Nuaimi.
Seamless roaming across locations, devices and networks, a benefit of Citrix technology, allows students, teachers, researchers and administrators to study and work at their convenience, with high productivity. They can securely access mobile, web, SaaS and Windows apps and data through an app store created by Ankabut with single sign-on authentication. Because students can only access approved apps and have restrictions on downloading online resources, educators, parents and IT can ensure that mobile devices in the classroom are being used appropriately.
With XenApp, Ankabut uses one set of tools to create and enforce a single set of access control policies for all users, regardless of their location and device. As a result, new students, visiting professors and substitute teachers can be provisioned and de-provisioned in minutes. Because apps and associated data remain in the datacenter, IT can simplify operations while ensuring 24/7 access to resources, thereby providing better service at a lower cost while supporting compliance, data protection and student privacy.
Ankabut aims to replicate the success of the first phase of its desktop virtualization implementation across 10.000 additional users by 2016. Al Nuaimi and his team believe that this virtualized desktop infrastructure will be a cornerstone in this next phase of a planned expansion as they increase their service offerings to academic institutions in the UAE and the Middle East region. Citrix technologies are playing a critical role in ensuring that students and teachers have the most flexible and productive learning experience.
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