Amazon AppStream 2.0: Bringing Your Computer Lab to Your Students

Published on: July 6, 2020
David Mendez, Cloud Architect

These last few months during the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and businesses have had to face challenges across the IT landscape. These have included figuring out how to deliver content, how to handle capacity demands for online platforms, conducting courses strictly online that were meant to be in a traditional classroom setting, and doing all of it quickly after lockdowns were put in place across the country.

One of the challenges that caught a lot of institutions off guard was finding a solution for delivering software to students and faculty that is normally only available in a computer lab. Examples of such software are AutoCAD and MATLab for engineering courses. The types of software can vary, but an institution normally has a set of applications that are only available to students in an on-campus lab setting.

During the hectic pace of the initial COVID-19 pandemic shut-down, institutions tried to work with what they had to deliver this software to current students and faculty. In most cases, the solution was to simply not deliver the software. Now that the summer months are here, I am working with IT departments who are under a directive to put a ‘hybrid-flex’ mode in place. This model ensures that instruction can continue with minimal disruption in the event of a lockdown in Fall 2020. One of the main topics of conversation is how can the software in computer labs be delivered to allow instruction to continue if computer labs are not accessible?

For those that may not be aware, there is a service provided by AWS that is the solution to this problem. It is called Amazon AppStream 2.0. AppStream 2.0 is a fully managed application streaming service that allows IT departments to centrally manage their applications and securely deliver them to any computer. End-users can access the available applications through a web browser and launch them on their own computers. It is not a remote desktop service, but an application streaming service that is compatible with almost any computer and operating system.

AppStream 2.0 can integrate with your licensing servers, ensuring that the application being streamed is using the proper licensing. The service can scale to any number of users, and the service ensures that each user has a responsive experience with the application. Institutions can integrate AppStream 2.0 with their SAML compliant identity access management system, providing a mechanism to allow only authorized access to the applications. In using SAML, you can also restrict which applications are made available to users. You can show a subset of available applications to engineering students while showing another set to computer science students. There are many other features available in AppStream 2.0, such as shared drives to house application data, and home folders. This service can act just like a virtual computer lab for your students.

You can also have different resources used for different applications. For software that requires graphical processing units (GPU), the application can utilize this type of resource while another application can use lower cost standard CPU. You can set your AppStream groups to scale up on demand, scale up based on time, or both. This means that you can scale up your applications for use during known busier times, lower them in the late evening hours, but still be able to scale up at any time.

Imagine this scenario: As the fall semester is in full swing, the computer lab is no longer accessible. With AppStream 2.0 in place and already configured to deliver software to the appropriate students, the software can be accessed securely and easily through the student’s computer--any type of computer. The location of the student doesn’t matter and the laptop operating system does not matter. Instruction can continue as normal, with the computer lab software still available for use. Students would access a URL, login, and be presented with a page that shows the available applications to use:

Amazon Appstream graphic

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced IT departments of institutions to look for new ways to continue to deliver instruction quickly, and with minimal disruption in the event of a closure. It’s not a surprise that I am seeing AppStream 2.0 being tested by institutions this summer to give them a solution for continuing instruction in the event of a closure. It is easy to use and provides a solution for one of the instruction continuation challenges experienced this past spring. For those who are new to AWS, there are programs available to help you learn about this service free of charge.

For more information on how AppStream 2.0 can help you achieve your goals to deliver instruction, read these excellent blogs:

With fall classes starting soon, contact Unicon for more information or to help you put a flex-mode solution in place. The Amazon AppStream 2.0 service can be invaluable to your plans and goals of delivering instruction continuously in the event of a closure. You will not be disappointed with the results.

David Mendez photo

David Mendez

Cloud Architect

Dave Mendez is a Senior Cloud Engineer and Senior System Administrator at Unicon.  With over 20 years’ experience, he has been involved in all aspects of IT ranging from cloud solutions and implementations, network administration, programming, system administration, and IT management.  Dave currently specializes in Amazon Web Services, designing and implementing large scale cloud solutions and leading Unicon's Hosting and Managed Services team.  His passion is for developing lean, effective AWS architectures that decrease costs and increase the resiliency of applications. Prior to working at Unicon, Dave was Director of IT at John Wood Community College and Assistant Director of IT at Quincy University, where he was responsible for budget management and developing long-term IT strategies for processes and policies. Dave also served as lead network and system administrator for both institutions. Dave is a recognized Subject Matter Expert (SME) in AWS technologies. He holds six AWS Certifications, including both professional level certifications of Solutions Architect, DevOps Engineer, and Security Specialist.