The college is launching a cloud computing option in fall 2020, giving students, faculty and staff the ability to access more than 40 engineering software programs for free from anywhere with an internet connection.

Student at computer on campusThe system is available to the engineering and applied science community for academic use.

For best results, a local device should always be the preferred option for your computing needs. You also may visit the campus OIT webpage or the ITL Program webpage for a list of software already available for download on your
personal/work computer.

The system was developed by a team of three IT professionals in the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: IT Director J. Franklin, Systems Administrator Brandon Scovronski, and Systems Administrator David Long. Because the system is not supported by the campus Office of Information Technology, users should review the FAQs below. For additional questions, please contact J. Franklin.

Because the system is in its first iteration and user demand is still being evaluated, faculty should email J. Franklin if they plan for more than 35 users to access the system concurrently.

Intended uses

The software can be used for classes, teaching and instructional purposes. In many cases, our licensing agreements do not allow us to use this software for research. If you need software for research purposes, contact your professor or department.

While we’re providing workstation-level computing specs to you in a browser, anywhere in the world, we are aiming for the sweet spot of something usable while being financially responsible. The performance should align with a medium-range desktop or laptop. A powerful personal device should always be your first choice.

Accessing the system

  • For most users, any desktop, laptop or Chromebook, along with any internet browser, will be sufficient. Tablets and phones, while they may work, are not recommended.

  • Access is tied to your CU Boulder identikey; you must be affiliated with the CU Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science. The system syncs daily and grants or removes access to students, faculty, and staff. If you believe you should have access but cannot login, please contact ceas-gg-cloudcomputing@colorado.edu.


There are two ways to connect to the cloud computing system:

Standard method to connect:

The standard method involves using a browser from your personal device and should work for most use cases.

  1. Go to https://ceas.link/cloudcomputing
  2. Login with your identikey@colorado.edu account/password.
  3. The following view will load (your options may be different):  
  4. Under "College of Engineering" click the appropriate computer for your computing needs:
    • "Compute Enhanced" indicates a better CPU, higher CPU core count, or added memory
    • "Graphics Enhanced" indicates that you're accessing a computer with a dedicated graphics card for workloads such as CAD.
      When in doubt, choose the "Compute" option.
  5.  ​​After clicking the computer icon, you will be prompted to login again with your identikey/password (no need to type @colorado.edu this time).
  6. If you see a ‘No Resources Available’ message when clicking a computer, wait 3-4 minutes; the system is auto-scaling up for you.

You are now ready to cloud compute!

Advanced method to connect:

The advanced method uses the new Microsoft Remote Desktop (MSRDC) client. Because the advanced method uses the Remote Desktop client rather than a browser, more keyboard shortcuts may be used within specific applications such as Solidworks. The new MSRDC client is different from the Remote Desktop Connection tool that you may be familiar with, which ships with Windows.

  1. Download and install the latest Microsoft Remote Desktop (MSRDC) client from Microsoft:
  2. After installation finishes, open the "Remote Desktop" client.
  3. Select "Subscribe with URL"
  4. To the right, in the "Email or Workspace URL" text box, enter the following URL and click Next: https://rdweb.wvd.microsoft.com/api/arm/feeddiscovery
  5. When prompted, login with your identikey@colorado.edu account/password.
  6. On first login, if prompted with the following screen, uncheck "Allow my organization to manage my device" and click "No, sign in to this app only"
  7. Once authenticated, you should now see the computing options available to you. When ready to begin, click the best option for you (your list of options may vary from the screenshot below).
    • "Compute Enhanced" indicates a better CPU, higher CPU core count, or added memory
    • "Graphics Enhanced" indicates that you're accessing a computer with a dedicated graphics card for workloads such as CAD.
      ​When in doubt, choose the "Compute" option.
       
  8. (Optional) By default, when connecting to a remote computer, the session is configured to fill your screen(s), regardless of whether you have more than one display. To prevent this behavior, right click on the computer you wish to use and select "Settings"
  9. In the window to the right, toggle “Use default settings” to Off.
  10. New options will appear. Toggle "Single display when windowed" to On.

You are now ready to cloud compute!

Using the system

No time limit; use the system for as long as you need.

The systems come with Google File Stream and Microsoft OneDrive already installed. Once logged in, go to the start menu and use the search box to find “Drive File Stream” or “OneDrive." Upon opening either, you’ll need to login with your identikey@colorado.edu. Once complete, a temporary drive should be mapped for you. You can reference this drive when using the open/save options within any program.

Dropbox is not automatically installed, but you should be able to access any files saved there through an internet browser within the remote session.

Troubleshooting

Cloud computing does rely on having internet access. If you are a student with financial need who doesn't have reliable internet access, you may contact your advisor or faculty member to apply for a WiFi hotspot through the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement.

In some cases, downloading the software you need onto a personal computer may be a better solution than this cloud computing resource. J. Franklin, IT director, is working to consolidate department-owned software licenses into site licenses, many of which allow students to download and install on a personal device and use without internet connection. This page will be updated as these resources are established.

You also may visit the campus OIT webpage or the ITL Program webpage for a list of software already available for download on your personal computer.

Expect to wait about 45 seconds to log in each session. Computers being used for the first time may take 1-2 minutes.

This isn’t your home computer; this system utilizes the latest technology from Microsoft. The login experience is highly subjective to the settings and policies being applied to the system. In addition, the back-end infrastructure, hidden to the user, can also add to the login time.

With current technical realities in mind, our team has spent many hours optimizing the experience to save every possible second on login, but we can still do better. As newer pieces of infrastructure are implemented on the backend, the login time will decrease.

One benefit of a cloud-computing solution is you only pay for what you use. The trick is finding an optimal number of available devices to handle user demand, but as few as possible to avoid paying for computers not in use. We have implemented a custom scaling algorithm that monitors user volume every minute and turns on and off the number of computers available. If you see a message ‘no resources available,’ it means demand is exceeding current capacity.

The good news is our capacity ceiling is hundreds of computers, and it only takes 3-4 minutes to have more ready for you. So, grab a drink and try again and the system should let you in. 

It’s OK! When you connect to the system, a “session” is created for you. If you disconnect, you will have 30 minutes to reconnect and be routed automatically to your previous session to resume work. Work saved locally will not persist, so please use Drive File Stream (Google) or OneDrive (Microsoft), both installed, to save your files (or another document storage option like Dropbox). If active, you may remain within the system as long as you need. If you disconnect and do not reconnect within 30 minutes, your session will end and all unsaved progress will be lost.

We hope the software available will be a strong starting point and meet a large volume of student and faculty needs. Our goal is to add more supported applications over time, and we will develop a method to accept requests for additional software. In the meantime, email john.franklin@colorado.edu to suggest another software we should add in the future. 

Support for this system is provided by a small team of three IT professionals. You can email ceas-gg-cloudcomputing@colorado.edu to request support, but keep in mind that there may be a delay in our reply due to our small team size.

This ITLP team supports and configues niche engineering software and hardware installations, integrations and configurations that are beyond the scope of campus IT support. We're focused on serving the unique needs of departments and programs within the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The campus Office of Information Technology is focused on broad IT support needed campuswide and therefore is not able to provide help on this cloud computing solution. 

Additional information

Cloud computing is the delivery of computing services over the internet. Instead of relying on your local computer, you rely on a computer in a data center elsewhere in your region, state, country, or perhaps somewhere else on the globe! If the experience is tuned correctly, you can use a lower-end device (e.g., Chromebook) to run complicated software with an ample internet connection.

VDI is industry jargon for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. VDI and cloud computing are similar, but VDI more specifically refers to providing user desktops within a cloud, or virtual, environment.

Access to technology is a common hurdle for students and faculty in engineering due to the nature of software licensing and the niche configurations used in engineering coursework. Historically, access to specialized software and hardware has been provided via computer labs and classrooms on campus with support from IT professionals.

Due to the challenges of COVID-19, many faculty and students no longer have consistent access to these on-campus computing resources. As a result, many people are discovering the limitations of using personal devices for complex software and struggling to tackle installation, configuration and licensing issues on their own.

For the last four years, the ITL Program IT team has been developing and improving a remote computing solution called ITL Anywhere; the pandemic presented an opportunity to carry forward those lessons learned to develop a new cloud computing solution capable of working at the collegewide scale. A team of three - IT Director J. Franklin, systems administrator Brandon Scovronski, and systems administrator David Long - have spent nights and weekends since April 2020 developing this system.

These are the technical specs of the remote computers we're accessing:

Device Name CPU # of cores RAM vGPU (graphics processor)
Compute Enhanced Xeon(R) CPU E5-2673 v3 @2.40GHz 4 16 GB None
Graphics Enhanced Xeon(R) CPU E5-2690 v3 @2.60GHz 4 14 GB 1/8 MI25 (2GB VRAM)

Our current plan is to provide a system capable of handling over 1,000 concurrent users. As of late August 2020, we have capacity for 250 concurrent users with the flexibility to upgrade overnight, or in some cases, instantly.

In the long run, we’d like to offer specialized computers for all workloads and significantly more applications while balancing fiscal responsibility.