California Community Colleges Boost Virtual Labs with Netlab+

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Netlab+, a remote access application by Network Development Group, is going public by joining with Californian community colleges, with the IT courses allowing faculty and students to schedule and engage in lab exercises.

Almost 50 colleges are using Netlab+ to give students training in Career Technical Education. The certifications the program provides are recognized by the industry's top job providers such as VMware and Cisco. In addition, the colleges are beginning a blended user group to get feedback from administrators and educators alike in an online environment.

"The NETLAB+ system is installed and administered at your location. Your organization controls the class offerings, instructor accounts, student accounts and configuration of both virtual machines and real gear for instructional access. NETLAB+ includes a wide variety of curriculum content options," The Network Development Group website says.

The program currently offers classes in five areas — computer support, cybersecurity, networking, forensics, and Linux — notes Dian Schaffhauser for Campus Technology. Teachers receive training on how to access and implement curriculum in the five offered areas, as well as the various lab equipment involved.

The versatility and easy educator access are two big selling points for Netlab+, which has helped it to continue growing its user base. The platform is able to meet time requirements by allowing teachers to schedule anywhere from an entire class down to self-study labs. The platform even allows for records of commands issued to firewalls, switches, and virtual routers, which can then be reviewed at any time.

Jim Cosentino, Administrator for the Northern Region's shared Netlab+ hub, said "NETLAB+ gives colleges the ability to do remote labs with the equipment they don't typically have. The lab setups are made up of one to eight virtual computers called a pod. This is not something easy to do in a physical lab on campus. The ability to offer a multitude of classes without each campus investing in expensive lab equipment is a major benefit of using a virtual lab system."

In just the first eight months of use, 15 teachers used Netlab+ for classes and that number is increasing quickly. One reason for the rapid growth of the program is the various tools it offered when it went public. Netlab+ boasts eight student hosts on VMware EXS, two Cisco 9372 fiber switches, and one Nimble CS500 storage area network among many others.

Funding for Netlab+ comes mainly from the Doing What Matters program. This program, which focuses on California Community Colleges, helps provide grants to programs that intend to increase the breadth of education in both IT fields as well as other fields. That program is promoting user groups for Netlab+ to assist in procuring grant money to continue the growth of the virtual lab.

Jim Cosentino seems focused on the program's growth, as he stated there are already plans to add two management hosts and Netlab+ appliances to accommodate even more users. With how cost-effective the program is compared to traditional lab settings, this growth seems likely.

The Network Development Group website describes Netlab+ as "A remote access solution that allows academic institutions to host real IT equipment, virtual machines and a wide variety of curriculum content options. NETLAB+ includes all the software needed to provide an environment through which students may schedule and complete lab exercises for Information Technology courses."

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