A good training program can make or break the success of a software
product. VDIworks takes every possible step to provide the most
interactive, real-world training courses to its learners because
when its partners and customers leave the lab, their ability to
understand, sell, and support VDIworks products will have a direct
impact on the bottom line.
After VDIworks spun-off from PC blade manufacturer ClearCube
Technology, it had the opportunity to completely revamp its
training program. This separation gave the company greater
flexibility and responsibility to upgrade the training program.
With a $10,000 budget, the training and development team embarked
on a mission to take its programs into the 21st century.
Planning the move
My first piece of advice for anyone tasked with redesigning a
training program on a limited budget is to come up with a short
list of measurable goals for the project. In our case, VDIworks
wanted to accomplish four goals:
- offer a remote training option for learners who could not
- create a new delivery option for end users
- reduce operating and maintenance costs on a per class basis
- launch the new program within 30 days.
When setting goals, it's crucial that the team remains realistic.
However, don't sacrifice the long-term usability of the program to
save a few bucks. For example, based on feedback from partners, we
knew the program had to work beyond the physical constraints of our
classroom in Austin, Texas. In addition, it had to retain all if
not more of the interactive elements we provide in face-to-face
classes. Because VDIworks develops fairly sophisticated technology
products, we wanted to make sure the online learners received all
of the benefits of being on-site, such as hands-on training with
multiple servers running integrated software applications.
Equally important, because we are responsible for all aspects of
the training program - from setting up the lab to writing course
material - we wanted to make sure none of these goals would require
additional headcount or after-hours support. Managing the
resources of a training lab is a full-time job, never mind the time
it takes to develop new courses and training documentation.
Assessing roadblocks and challenges
Once we established the goals of the program, we took an honest
look at some of the challenges and roadblocks we were facing. For
us, the 30-day deadline and $10,000 budget were two primary
constraints, among other barriers that would need to be addressed.
For example, knowing that all of the maintenance, configuration,
and course development would continue to be our responsibility, we
wanted to create a program that would enable on-demand
provisioning. This is important because the VDIworks lab consists
primarily of emerging software that requires updates each time a
new build or patch is released. If we didn't find a solution that
matched that criteria we would likely spend unnecessary time
updating software - rather than managing learning solutions.
The online requirements would be a challenge to fulfill as well. At
the time, our only training option was a $3,000, five-day on-site
training course at VDIworks headquarters. Creating a new class from
scratch in a traditional online courseware format would require a
significant investment in time and resources. As if adding classes
and distance options during a 30-day period weren't challenging
enough, we also needed to keep the cost per class and prep time to
a minimum. Without some degree of automation to conduct rapid build
and configurations, the project would be nearly impossible to
VDIworks is probably the hardest customer to please, and the worst
critic given our background in virtualization software
development. When it came to choosing a solution, we wanted only
the best for our training lab.
The first technology we considered was server virtualization
management software, but those products only addressed half of what
we wanted to accomplish. More important, the up-front capital
investment and lack of on-demand capabilities were definite
deal-breakers. We didn't just want virtual machines on a public
server; we wanted a completely interactive distance learning option
to go with it. Our vision was to take virtualization to the next
level with this program.
After looking at stand-alone virtualization platforms and distance
learning tools, we found Skytap (http://www.skytap.com).
Skytap's Virtual Lab "in the cloud" satisfied all of our
requirements. The virtualization component required no additional
investments in hardware or software, and the on-demand delivery
model was our answer to the distance learning challenge.
Built-in templates and automation capabilities alleviated our
concern about spending excessive time and money on procuring,
maintaining, and updating software configurations for the lab. And,
the convenience of accessing Skytap's library of pre-configured
virtual machines for such purposes as revising course materials
without having to purchase and install the hardware and software in
our physical lab was a big plus.
With remote virtualization, we can easily access the lab through a
browser and quickly choose from a menu of options to create the
various hardware, operating systems, software applications, and
version numbers needed for each specific course. At the push of a
button, Skytap lets learners instantly generate that configuration
onto their desktop - whether they are sitting in the classroom or
half-way around the world in Tokyo. Additionally, Skytap's
learning management system and template-driven interface has proven
to be a huge time saver.
Measuring the ROI
Skytap gave us the solution we needed to accomplish all of our
objectives with a limited budget, and launch a new training program
in record time. Our learners are excited about using the new
solution, and we've been able to lower our tuition rates by 66
percent. My productivity has also improved - my group can set-up
and tear-down complex, multi-tiered environments 90 percent faster.
And the new program facilitates collaboration across globally
distributed teams using a shared virtual infrastructure.
If you're ready to take your technology training program into the
cloud but are unsure of how to get there, hopefully these
experiences will give you some pointers on where to begin and what
to consider. Making the shift from a physical brick and mortar
training lab into an efficient, state-of-the-art virtual lab can be
easier and more affordable than you think.