Cooperative Lab Management

This page describes a progam that is a partnership between LAT and distributed IT units for the joint management of student computer labs and classrooms. CLM has grown substantially over more than a decade of operation.

Contents

Purpose and Benefits

There are many reasons for cooperative lab management:

  • Participants benefit from the availability of the tools and infrastructure described below by having more reliable facilities that are easier to setup and manage.
  • Students and faculty experience a more consistent computing experience when moving between campuses or around University Park. When students become familiar with the lab environment at one location, they can use the facilities at another location with very little difficulty.
  • LabChat online interactive help provided by the lab consulting group is available for most locations (hours vary).
  • Leveraging CLM's tools and infrastructure for managing student labs provides an adaptive and secure environment .
  • Once an environment has been migrated into CLM, most participating units reported a decrease in the time needed to support their facilities, allowing more time to spend on more interesting problems.
  • The CLM Team provides quick and expert help for participating IT staff, plus a community of participants who help each other.
  • Comprehensive documentation is provided to all enrolled participants, as well as a bi-monthly newsletter and an annual user group meeting.

Background

LAT manages 3,327 Windows, macOS, and Linux computers in labs, classrooms and public areas throughout University Park, using distributed and scalable technologies. These technologies allow LAT to manage each workstation remotely, requiring LAT staff to typically touch the physical machine at most once per year. It also allows for a customized application software suite for each lab depending on the hardware and the location. Enhancements made to the process in 2005 made it feasible to extend the methods, processes, and infrastructure to support labs primarily run by other administrative departments. Also, various "homegrown" tools and our backend database have matured to the point that sharing the use of them became feasible, and the Cooperative Lab Management program was initiated.

As of Fall 2017, nearly 13,000 computers managed by 43 different units at 23 campuses were in the CLM infrastructure. They were used by 120,699 different users the previous academic year, totaling 2.8 million logons and 2.4 million hours.

Supported Operating Systems

We support Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB 64-bit and macOS Sierra 10.12.

Tools and Features

Many tools and features in the program benefit distributed IT staff. Those common to Windows and macOS include:

  • Hardened OS Image: the file system and system configuration have been secured to make it difficult for users to interfere with the operation of the system.
  • Client Management: computers are automatically joined to the Systems Management @ Penn State environment (IBM BigFix).
  • Software Packages: computers install and update software packages using BigFix.
    • The CLM Team provides and supports a base set of freeware or site-licensed software packages that can be deployed to every machine within CLM.
    • Any cooperating unit can add and deploy an application package that is needed in their area, as long as running it does not compromise the security of the workstation.
    • Software/installer-sharing between units is strongly encouraged, as long as licensing is considered, helping reduce the time needed to deploy new or updated software.
    • Licensing an application prior to deploying an application in the software repository is still the responsibility of each administrative unit.
  • Account Management: users login with their Penn State Access Accounts using the dce.psu.edu Kerberos realm. Units have the ability to create groups and restrict who can login to machines in their CLM machines, if needed.
  • User tools include:
    • Current Lab Use: users can see how busy a location is before going there.
    • Lab Hours: a Web application for listing a room's hardware and hours of availability.
  • Administrator tools include:
    • BigFix: all computers are automatically joined to IBM BigFix in the CLM division and can be managed remotely.
    • Lab Use Data: CLM partners automatically get access to a suite of usage reports to examine lab/classroom use by semester, day, or hour.
  • Keyserver: An optional component that allows for application usage-tracking and has the ability to allow pooling of software licenses using concurrent, if allowed by the application's EULA. This component is licensed per workstation and also has a yearly renewal cost.
  • Printing Control: the Student Printing Service, a central charge-back Pharos-based printing solution, is only available to CLM participants.
  • Power Management: CLM machines by default use BigFix to implement aggressive power settings. Podiums by default use moderately aggressive power settings. A unit can decide to customize these settings, if they desire to do so.

Participating Areas

University Park

 

Commonwealth Campuses

See the Our Rooms page to query a database of campuses, buildings, rooms and units that support CLM computers in those rooms. We also have a handy map!

Cost

TLT does not charge any unit for this service; however, there may be some hardware and software costs.

Hardware

  • Administrative units at University Park can leverage LAT's existing server infrastructure.
  • Campuses sometimes are required to have a single file server on their campus dedicated to the project (this server caches software and profiles locally, dramatically improving performance).
    • The typical cost of such a server is normally $4,000 to $5,000 with a 4-5 year lifecycle. All server hardware must be under an current maintenance contract. The CLM Team manages the server.
    • A campus can sometimes leverage the Media Commons server if there are no special license managers or no local print queue requirements; however, we recommend dedicating this server to Media Commons.
  • In some cases, network improvements are needed to connect managed computers to the campus server(s).

Software

  • Each unit is responsible for all local software licensing costs.
  • Sassafras KeyServer is an optional component that a unit can elect to use. For ease of administration, we run a central KeyServer for this purpose and coordinate the purchase of licenses and renewals. Keyserver is licensed per workstation, and each license has a renewal cost per year. For more information about KeyServer, please contact us.

Limitations and Requirements

There are some limitations with this service that need to be considered by existing and potential participants:

  • Hardware: only certain models of physical, business-class desktop computers are supported by the SysMan Build Key and CLM.
    • If you have hardware that is not listed, please review this document to inquire if support can be added.
  • Networks: several requirements for networking lab computers to a server will be provided when the campus begins discussions with us.
  • Applications not already used in LAT's or CLM partners' labs can be installed; however, it is the unit's responsibility to get the application installer to run silently and be deployed through BigFix. The CLM Team offers support and guidance on a best-effort basis matching the unit's initial effort.
  • Dual-booting is difficult to secure and maintain. Consequently. dual-boot environments are not supported.
    • We support Linux for instruction using the CLC's Linux cluster. A graphical user interface to the Linux environment is available via X windows.
  • CLM machines are multi-user systems, i.e., they are not for individual faculty, staff, and/or student workstations.

Partners are required to:

  • Register all administrators with the CLM Team.
  • Attend a CLM administrator orientation (for full benefit, we recommend attending a SysMan bootcamp or FastTrack training to become an IBM BigFix console operator).
  • Purchase all local hardware and local software (there is no charge for the CLM service or accompanying tools).
  • Provide or purchase a server, if needed, to host roaming profiles and become an IBM BigFix relay.
  • Share application packages with other partners when feasible and legal.
  • Use the dedicated mailing list and Yammer group for discussions, and the CLM support portal for reporting problems and submitting requests.
  • Visit our internal SharePoint site regularly to review documentation and announcements.

Further Information

Questions from potential partners about this program can be sent to us with this form.

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Last Updated August 21, 2017