AWS Public Sector Blog

5 things to consider when rapidly deploying a virtual computer lab space using Amazon AppStream 2.0

child on laptop virtual computer labchild on laptop

Schools are looking for ways to help their students remain productive and connected while learning remotely. End user computing (EUC) helps schools enable remote learning by providing every student access to the applications they need for class on any computer. This means bring the on-premises computer lab experience to the students, virtually.

Amazon AppStream 2.0 can help educational institutions create virtual computer lab spaces at scale. AppStream 2.0 is a fully managed application streaming service that offers on-demand access to desktops and applications. Each user has a fluid and responsive experience using only their web browser, including GPU-intensive 3D design and engineering software applications, because applications run on virtual machines (VMs) optimized for specific use cases and each streaming session automatically adjusts to network conditions.

AWS now has two AWS Professional Services offerings geared specifically toward getting you prepared for back to school. To take advantage of the offers, contracts must be signed by October 31, 2020. Contact us or your account manager directly to learn more.

In the meantime, here are five things you should consider when rapidly deploying a virtual computer lab space using Amazon AppStream 2.0:

1. What is the role of your virtual computer lab spaces?

In a traditional on-campus setting, the primary role of a computer lab is to provide students with equitable access to resources, including desktop infrastructure and software applications, to support learning. Computer labs may be provided in an open access model, where students can access labs on-demand, or in a classroom model integrated with specific coursework. In a remote learning scenario, computer labs need to be virtual and available over the internet, so that students can access the resources they need from any device, any time, and anywhere.

Amazon AppStream 2.0 is flexible to support multiple virtual lab scenarios, whether it’s a full Windows desktop, a specific application, or a catalog of apps. AppStream 2.0 will integrate with your SSO so that students can use their existing identities, and you can integrate AppStream 2.0 with your Learning Management System (LMS) to broker access based on course enrollment. AppStream 2.0 can also support bursts of short-term demand for use cases like student assessments.

2. How many students will access the virtual computer lab?

To perform effective capacity planning for a virtual lab space, gather available utilization data if it exists. The following data points are recommended, but you don’t need to know everything before getting started:

  • Total number of students
  • Total number of concurrent student sessions
  • Peak and non-peak utilization times
  • Maximum allowed duration of a session per student

It is important to recognize that in a virtual lab space for remote learning, utilization patterns will deviate from on-campus labs. Virtual lab spaces are not limited by physical space or on-premises infrastructure constraints, and fluctuations in demand should be expected.

Amazon AppStream 2.0 can scale to meet changes in demand and is available as a pay-as-you-go service. You do not have to perfectly estimate capacity to get started. To help you manage capacity while lowering costs, AppStream 2.0 offers on-demand fleets. On-demand fleet VM instances don’t start until a user connects to an instance within the fleet, which means that you can provision capacity at a lower cost when utilization patterns are unpredictable or sporadic. AppStream 2.0 can also limit session duration and enforce idle disconnect timeouts to help manage costs.

3. What software applications do students need?

Make an inventory of the installed software applications (and their system requirements) that are most important for students to access in the virtual lab space. Ensure that you have enough licenses based on capacity planning assumptions for the virtual lab. Understand the licensing model for each software application; for example, does the application require a license server, or a named-user license?

The full range of AppStream 2.0fleet instance types can deliver virtual lab spaces for applications like SOLIDWORKS, Siemens NX, MATLAB, ArcGIS Pro, AutoCAD, and more. Software applications running on AppStream 2.0 can connect to existing resources, such as licensing servers or the internet, by streaming instances from your Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). AppStream 2.0 also offers multiple options for persistent file storage to allow users to store and retrieve files in their application streaming sessions.

4. How will you authenticate users of your virtual lab space?

There are three options to authenticate users with Amazon AppStream 2.0.

When using built-in user management, you can set up and manage your users in the AppStream 2.0 management console from the User Pool tab or using the CLI.

When using federated sign-in to authenticate users, you set up identity federation using SAML 2.0, which allows you to use your existing user directory to control access to applications available via AppStream 2.0. For details on setting up SAML integration, follow these steps.

For custom identities, LMS integration is a popular approach for education customers. You can use AWS Chalice and Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) to integrate Amazon AppStream 2.0 with your LMS. For more information, please see Integrating Amazon AppStream 2.0 with your Learning Management System.

5. What resources will students be able to access from the virtual lab space, such as browsing internet websites? How can access be restricted?

Security groups enable you to specify network traffic that is allowed between your AppStream 2.0 streaming instances and resources in your VPC. You can restrict network access by assigning an image builder or fleet to the security groups in your VPC. For more information, refer to Security Group for Your VPC.

Additionally, you can integrate existing web filtering and security solutions with AppStream 2.0 by routing egress traffic through on-premises network gateways, or take advantage of the full range of options to control egress traffic in your VPC. For more information, read Controlling Egress Traffic.

Review the Amazon AppStream 2.0 Administration Guide for complete information on how to configure, deploy, and manage AppStream 2.0. Visit the Amazon AppStream 2.0 Education page to learn more about the benefits of AppStream 2.0 for education, and visit the Amazon AppStream 2.0 Customers page to learn about how organizations have used AppStream 2.0 to modernize computer lab spaces.

To learn more, check out our webinars on delivering distance education for K12 and higher education. The webinar series include a fireside chat with a K12 school district administrator, higher education case studies, and show how to quickly implement a virtual computer lab.

If you need help deploying a virtual computer lab solution at your school, contact us, or connect with an AWS Partner with End User Computing Competency.

Andrew DeFoe

Andrew DeFoe

Andrew DeFoe is a business development manager at Amazon Web Services (AWS), based in Phoenix, AZ. Andrew focuses on end user computing solutions that give public sector users anytime access to data and applications on their favorite device, while helping IT maintain data security, reduce complexity, and improve user productivity. Andrew has previously held roles as a senior solutions architect at AWS and senior product manager at