Sustainability and remote learning achievements meet powerfully at Brock University with Azure Virtual Desktop

Female sitting in lecture hall with laptop

Higher education communities—with their great concentrations of learning, teaching, and research—are at the forefront of innovation. Many students, particularly those in Gen Z, are worried about the impact of climate change on their future. In a recent survey, over a quarter of Gen Z students said that climate change and protecting the environment was their greatest concern. At Brock University, home to the Environmental Sustainability Research Center, sustainability is a core value.

Brock had already been considering virtual labs when the 2020 lockdown made the transition to remote learning critical. With Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), the university created their first fully functional virtual lab within a remarkable four hours. From there, they launched secure, scalable virtual labs—available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year—to support over 20,000 students and faculty. Brock University has enhanced security via secure sign-in using Azure Active Directory multi-factor authentication, and optimized costs and end-user experience with automated, dynamic, responsive scaling from Azure PowerShell. AVD has given Brock University’s IT team an exciting new level of agility.

Before, anything that involved labs on a large scale would be a week or a month of planning and executing and a whole lot of drama. So the agility is incredible.

—Andreas Paulisch, IT Infrastructure Architect, Brock University

Leveraging AVD for virtual labs is part of Brock University’s sustainability future and will greatly reduce power consumption in campus computer labs. To understand the potential power savings, Brock conducted a study, in partnership with the university’s co-generation plant, which found that over the course of a single year, the university saved roughly 14 megawatts. For comparison’s sake, that’s enough to power over 11,000 homes for the same year. And virtual labs provide another welcome benefit: they reduce the strain on aging campus lab hardware like computers, monitors, and keyboards, which require frequent maintenance, upgrades, and eventual replacement.

Brock University explored several solutions to enable virtual labs. But as active users of Microsoft solutions like Azure Active Directory, Office 365, and Microsoft Teams, implementing AVD was seamless—all they needed to do was turn on the functionality. By leveraging existing Microsoft licenses, they paid only for what they used, resulting in a significant cost savings.

With the future of higher education trending toward hybrid learning, Brock University is already positioned for success with AVD. When in-person learning begins again, students will have the option of going to a physical lab or logging in to the virtual lab from anywhere and on any device.

Before, if you had a special assignment that needed some special software, you’d drive all the way up to the university, trudge to the lab, do your thing and then go home. Well, now you can do that from the comfort of your living room. Everything is there, it just works.

—Andreas Paulisch, IT Infrastructure Architect, Brock University

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