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When the COVID-19 pandemic upended in-person learning, academic institutions quickly adapted with remote learning technologies. Faced with narrow timeframes to make the transition, many schools turned to channel partners for IT support services, as well as for help determining the scope of their remote learning projects.
The University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) was one of the many higher education institutions that shifted to large-scale distance learning within a short period. Within a three-month window before the start of its 2020 fall semester, UTM kicked off a project that would provide its students, faculty and staff with remote access to on-site academic resources. Founded in 1967, UTM has more than 3,800 employees and 14,000 students, according to the university.
UTM evaluated potential IT solutions. In July 2020, the university decided to partner with Third Octet, a solution provider based in Woodbridge, Ont.. Third Octet, a Platinum Citrix Solution Advisor and Platinum Workspace Specialist, proposed UTM adopt Citrix digital workspace technology and expand its use of Citrix Cloud.
"Citrix has been a partner since we started the company and has always been a strong ally, one whose strategy aligns with ours," Third Octet CEO Matthew Metelsky said. Metelsky is a UTM alumnus.
Third Octet focuses on legal, nonprofit, healthcare, financial and manufacturing industries, so a project in the higher education market was slightly outside its wheelhouse. That didn't deter UTM from partnering with Third Octet.
"Our entire staff helped on this effort," Metelsky said. "We spent a lot of time working with the UTM IT team and conducted a lot of internal testing."
Preparing for the fall semester
The goals of UTM's remote learning project were initially murky because of uncertainties around pandemic guidelines. Third Octet defined UTM's new educational requirements and rearchitected a delivery strategy that aimed to keep user experience simple, according to the company.
"Requirements planning was challenging," Metelsky noted. "The pandemic guidelines were in flux, but decisions needed to be reached quickly because there was a short timeline to when school opened for the fall."
Matthew MetelskyCEO, Third Octet
As is the case with many academic institutions, UTM lets each of its 15 departments determine their own computer infrastructure. The university, as a result, had a hodgepodge of systems and applications in place.
Third Octet decided to narrow its focus, given the time constraints. "We could not instantly replicate all of the university's academic applications," Metelsky said.
The company proposed it roll out the Citrix offerings in areas where its features were a good fit for UTM's application needs, such as in the university laboratories. UTM already had an on-premises Citrix footprint prior to the project, but it hadn't taken full advantage of Citrix Cloud, according to Third Octet.
The Citrix-based remote learning infrastructure, which supports 1,000 concurrent users, was ready for the fall term.
Lessons learned by all
The deployment taught Third Octet a few things about the education market.
"Academia is a very complex computing environment, so you cannot replicate all components of education in a virtual format," Metelsky said. "Consequently, you need to focus on those that do work well and deliver value."
In addition, Third Octet came to see that servicing students is no different than other types of end users, he said. They all want technology that provides the best digital experience on a consistent platform.
"We had a lot of experience with digital workspaces and have now deployed it successfully in an academic environment -- in addition to our traditional niches," Metelsky said.
In the future, the UTM IT team will explore integrations with ServiceNow.