Within 3 minutes, we can now provision up a lab and automate the delivery of that lab environment to the customer. For us, the benefits were less operational efforts, and we can allow the students to take that piece on themselves.Stephen Carlino
Director, Education Infrastructure
CA Technologies creates software that fuels transformation for companies and enables them to seize the opportunities of the application economy. With an extensive portfolio of solutions supporting a global base of enterprise customers in their own technology planning, development, management and security functions, delivering hands-on user education on CA software is critical to successful adoption.
“In CA Education, we offered both instructor-led hands-on product training, and self-directed training using audio and video to guide students using locally installed software,” said Stephen Carlino, Director, CA Education. “One of the more recent projects we wanted to undertake was the concept of automating the provisioning of labs for self-directed learning. Our goal was to allow customers to easily consume live, hands-on labs for training when it made the most sense to them.”
- Use Skytap Cloud APIs to give CA’s corporate LMS the ability to launch and tear down dynamic training labs in Skytap
- Leverage the HTML5-based client to give users easy lab access without setup issues from any browser
- Spin up class environments in the Skytap Cloud global datacenter closest to customers for lower latency
- Increased class enrollment and capacity for virtual training labs by 300% over the last 2 years
- Complex lab setups now take 3 minutes instead of several hours without local computer issues
- Eliminated idle time for abandoned or unused infrastructure, tripled utilization of purchased virtual lab capacity
The CA Education team has supported partner and customer classes for thousands of business users over the years, at first exclusively as instructor-led training (or ILT) classes in their own brick-and-mortar facilities. A few years ago, they started delivering remote classes for customers connecting to on-premises labs within CA’s corporate datacenters, but the offering could not keep up with expanding demand.
Increasingly, today’s busy software users have less time to dedicate to traveling to classes, or even reserving a set class time for training. “With ILT, billable folks get pulled out of the field to attend training,” said Carlino. “They should learn on their own when it’s most convenient for them, not us. And for us, the challenge was always providing a lab environment for them.”
Provisioning, configuring and launching real enterprise application environments for user education purposes is no simple task. For realism, training labs require a variety of servers or VMs, and application components that must be networked and launched with appropriate data and management oversight in place. Class setups could take several days to complete, and they consume technical staff time and infrastructure costs while they were running.
Once remote training labs are set up, the learning experience must be taken into account. A user in Japan would have very sluggish responsiveness if they were remotely using a system housed in CA’s Islandia, NY headquarters, simply due to distance. In addition, conventional remote access methods required students to install applications or Java client plugins on their own laptops, a support headache in itself.
“One of the struggles that we had previously was connectivity, supporting users that are on the other side of the Earth,” said Carlino. “We [also] have many users that use many different types of laptops. We wanted to see an application that does not require Java and does not require local product applications to be installed, something that could run native out of a browser.”
In addition to expanding their capacity to deliver a quality experience, CA Education wanted to control the utilization of lab resources that would be set up and reserved well in advance through the company’s learning management system (LMS), but then left idle by customers who inevitably failed to attend or complete the class within their allotted time window.
“The biggest challenge we had was: how do you manage the resources? How do you provide hundreds of globally available lab resources for users and not leave it open-ended?” said Carlino.
“We wanted to put training in the cloud, to bring the lab experience closer to our customers,” said Carlino. “That was the reason why we reached out to Skytap Cloud. With Skytap Cloud, we’re able to provide them a lab environment that they can use any time they wish to consume their training.”
The first task was to integrate Skytap Cloud’s services with CA’s corporate learning management system (or LMS), which contains course titles and student enrollment capabilities. The team created a portal that uses Skytap Cloud APIs to pull this enrollment information from the LMS, and then call Skytap Cloud to provision a virtual training lab for that customer dynamically, pre-configured with software running.
Education customers get quickly emailed a link to their own personal training portal from CA Education via Skytap Cloud’s “Published URL” feature, which gives them access to a running virtual lab through any browser. Users do not need to install any plugins or special software to start the hands-on training experience on their own schedule.
“The HTML 5 UI now available in Skytap Cloud means one less thing that our customers have to do. That’s our goal, to always improve the customer experience,” said Carlino.
Lab resources are launched from the nearest Skytap Cloud datacenter, so the user experience is more responsive — for instance a team in Mumbai, India may use Skytap Cloud’s Singapore datacenter. CA Education not only schedules specific times for the launch and shutdown of virtual lab resources in Skytap Cloud, they can also suspend labs if customers are not using them for an interval of time, to conserve training capacity and costs.
“We were very much interested in Skytap Cloud’s suspend capabilities, which allowed us to provide the learners with just the amount of lab access that we wanted them to see,” said Carlino. “That was very, very appealing for our business. It gave us the means to control those resources.”
The primary benefits for CA Education are simple: they are able to give more customers a better training experience with self-paced training, while realizing more efficient utilization of both time and infrastructure budget. They’ve come a long way since the brick-and-mortar days, and even the remote virtual labs they offered just 3 years ago.
“Within 3 minutes, we can now provision up a lab and automate the delivery of that lab environment to the customer,” said Carlino. “For us, the benefits were less operational efforts, and we can allow the students to take that piece on themselves.”
By extending their LMS with Skytap Cloud APIs, CA Education has drastically improved the ease of student enrollment, while ensuring that reserved virtual labs are ready when demanded, with better connectivity for a globally distributed audience of business students.
“My advice would be to take advantage of the Skytap Cloud APIs. We have found that they are very powerful. When a user wants a lab, we need to provide it, it needs to be minimal clicks, and it needs to be quick. That is one of the things that we get to experience using Skytap Cloud.” said Carlino.
What’s next for CA Education? The team has plans to measure their improvements in customer experience through feedback, while expanding their catalog of available software titles to serve more customers and partners with self-directed training they can consume on their own time.
“Without a doubt, the energy of the Skytap Cloud team has been very refreshing. They are very eager. They want to grow their product, and we have been able to provide a lot of feedback into many of the features that are now in the product, and now, within 18 months, we’ve seen very neat features released in Skytap Cloud, and I’d like to think we had a voice in that.”