Utica College's Virtualized Desktop Infrastructure Transforms Hands-On Learning

Utica College's new virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) allows students everywhere to access new software, technologies, storage capabilities, and more, with nothing but a high-speed Internet connection.

Regardless of their device or its age, each student can gain access to the latest versions of the software and special technologies for class.

We continue to build the VDI system — it's more than a million-dollar investment in super technology that gives our students a huge competitive edge in the marketplace. It's a fantastic example of how UC continues to be a pioneer in the cyberspace.
– Polly Smith, Ph.D., Associate Provost of Online Learning at Utica College

What does the VDI look like?

It's like a server on steroids that lives on Utica College's campus. When students log into the system, they are presented with an interface for the appropriate operating system, software versions, and tools they need.

Though they're logged into a campus server, it looks and operates as if they're using their own computer, and they can do anything they need to: interact with files and folders, run programs, use the command line, and connect to other networks.

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Five ways the VDI helps our students succeed

  1. Increased access to technology

    Whether they have a 10-year-old MacBook, a new Windows computer, or even a Chromebook (most of which have very limited storage), students have access to the most up-to-date technologies and software in the VDI.

    If you have a limited hardware budget, or if your computer is malfunctioning and inaccessible while warranty work is completed, you can use another device to access the tools you need to continue your coursework.

  2. Easier file recovery and tech support

    In case of malfunction, the VDI has built-in redundancy and uses "golden images" to efficiently redeploy the system in minutes with minimal, if any, data loss.

    Without the VDI in place, files might be lost, corrupted, or otherwise damaged when an issue occurs. Students could lose access to their files and might have to start from scratch. The new, centralized system at Utica offers a safer, more reliable alternative.

  3. Most up-to-date software

    Using the VDI will give students access to real, up-to-date software they'll be using in their career, not outdated, demo, or trial versions.

    For example, the Forensic Toolkit (FTK), one of the leading forensic software suites, can analyze deleted files, crack passwords, and more. The only demo version available is version 1.8 — a 16-year-old version — while the licensed FTK is on version 6.4.

    Thanks to Utica's VDI, students gain access to real software and real experience, using the systems they'll work with on the job.

  4. Simplified software demonstrations

    For non-technical courses, the VDI makes software demonstrations easy. Using the VDI allows professors to showcase how a piece of software works and get into deeper, content-related discussions more quickly.

  5. Seamlessly work with large files and multiple systems

    Some courses require very large files for analysis. Before VDI, it was difficult for students and professors to exchange these files and ensure all parties have access. Now, it's easy to share files of any size.

While on-campus students sometimes use up to 10 different computers with various operating systems to practice testing vulnerabilities and other cybersecurity skills, online students had no such equivalent.

The VDI allows Utica to host localized virtual networks and facilitate practical skill development, giving online students the same content and learning experience as those on campus.

Utilizing VDI in cybersecurity courses

Cybersecurity software can be resource-intensive, causing professors to make some assignments or portions of them voluntary because a student's hardware can't handle it.

With VDI, students can follow along and work with any software their professor is using regardless of the power of their personal computer.

  • CYB 355 Cybercrime Investigations and Forensics I

    Forensics software is an important tool in cybercrime investigation. Previously, the software available to students was limited in its capabilities to perform the tasks required. Now, we're able to provide students with the opportunity to perform command-line imaging of hard drives and USB devices and extract metadata from PDF files and Word documents. With the help of the VDI, this course gives students the tangible, hard skills they need.

  • CYB 356 Cybercrime Investigations and Forensics II

    Previously, students needed access to a Linux computer to participate in this course. Without Linux, they'd have to use a local virtualized experience to perform the labs. With the VDI, students can access a specific version of the operating system that's optimized for forensics — no matter which computer they're using.

    Throughout the course, students collect the necessary tools and install them to gain experience updating and preparing processes. Students perform data carving, hex editing to manually collect information, mapping partition tables, and converting data into the newer, logical block-addressing format. With the VDI, students are able to complete these hands-on, highly-technical tasks in a stable, sterilized environment.

  • CYB 455 Cybercrime Investigations and Forensics III

    Students will dig into each piece of data within a computer system to perform Internet-history and Windows-registry analysis, practice deleted file recovery, and look for the persistence of malware. Each stage of this course builds skills necessary for any cybersecurity professional's toolkit.

Thanks to Utica's VDI system, these experiences are easily available to all students.

To learn more about Utica College's new Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and our online Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity, call 866-295-3106 to speak with a program manager.