Brock-developed technology to increase research productivity and collaboration

It’s new technology aimed at helping researchers and students access large databases and software more conveniently and securely than ever before, and it was developed here at Brock University.

The new Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) was recently developed by Brock’s Department of Information Technology Services (ITS).

David Cullum, Associate Vice-President of ITS, and Andreas Paulisch, Infrastructure Architect, partnered with Psychology Professor Teena Willoughby to develop a private and secure cloud to allow faculty and student researchers the opportunity to access and analyze large databases anytime, anywhere and from any device in a secure manner.

“It’s a computer that’s not physical. It exists in a virtual space so as long as you have access to the internet, you can securely connect on just about any device and it will look identical to Brock’s server,” says Paulisch.

According to Digital Journal, the virtual desktop market is on a steady rise because it supports mobility, streamlines collaboration and is more secure.

Willoughby and her research team recently received a $1.43 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to monitor more than 1,100 boys and girls ages eight to 13 over a five-year period for research on adolescent risk-taking behaviours.

This study will shed light on the development of adolescent health-risk behaviours, factors that influence these behaviours, and what kinds of policies and practices can be created to manage or mitigate risks, so having secure and flexible access to these large longitudinal databases is key for success.

“It’s going to be great for a lot of people,” says Willoughby. “Especially now because increasingly we need to collaborate across institutions; we can’t just do research on our own, we have to do research internationally and to be able to share data and work with data in an easy and secure manner.”

For the past 17 years, data analysis in Willoughby’s lab was done solely on computers without an internet connection, posing to be very restrictive for collaboration, convenience and flexibility.

Now with the new VDI system, previous grad students and all collaborators around the world will have access to these databases without needing to physically come on to campus.

“If I am alone in the lab with just my current students, we’re not going to publish as much as if I have access to past students and collaborators around the world, so of course our productivity will go up,” Willoughby said. “And that’s the way of the future — many grants require collaboration now so we’ll be more likely to receive these grants, benefitting the bottom line at Brock while producing impactful research worldwide.”

The VDI system is transformational — benefiting research, and holding the potential for more diverse online courses and virtual labs.

Cullum’s interest is to help improve the student experience by combining a “bring your own device” strategy with VDI solutions in the cloud space.

ITS has reported that students are bringing between two to three devices to Brock every day, with close to 60,000 devices being used on any given day.

“We’d like to include some work stations in the Computer Commons so students are able to connect their own devices to the VDI solution,” he says. “And if they are working from home, we can deliver all those similar desktop applications right to their devices in an easy and secure manner.”

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