A good training program can make or break the success of a software product. That's why we take every possible step to provide the most interactive, real-world training courses. When our partners and customers leave the lab, their ability to understand, sell and support our products will have a direct impact on the bottom line.
As the training manager of an emerging technology company called VDIworks, I recently had the opportunity to completely revamp our training program after my company spun-off from PC blade manufacturer ClearCube Technology. This separation gave me greater flexibility and responsibility to upgrade our training program. With a $10,000 budget, I embarked on a mission to take our training program into the 21st century.
Develop Measurable Goals
My first piece of advice for anyone tasked with re-designing a training program on a limited budget is to come up with a 'short list' of measurable goals for the project. In my case, I wanted to accomplish four goals:
1. Offer a remote training option for students who could not travel on-site.
2. Create a new delivery option for end users.
3. Reduce operating and maintenance costs on a per class basis.
4. Launch the new program within 30 days.
When you are setting goals, it's obviously important to be realistic. But don't sacrifice the long-term usability of the program to save a few bucks. For example, based on feedback I received from partners I knew the program had to work beyond the physical constraints of our classroom in Austin, Texas. And it had to retain all, if not more, of the interactive elements we provide on-site. Since VDIworks develops fairly sophisticated technology products, we wanted to make sure our distance learners received all the benefits of being on-site, like hands-on training with multiple servers running integrated software applications.
Also, since I'm personally responsible for all aspects of the training program, from setting up the lab to writing course material, I 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.
Take a Realistic Look at the Roadblocks and Challenges
Once you've established the goals of your program, the next step is to take an honest look at the challenges and roadblocks you might encounter along the way. For us, the 30-day deadline and $10,000 budget were two of my primary constraints. I also came up with a few other barriers that would need to be addressed.
Knowing that all of the maintenance, configuration, and course development would be solely my responsibility, I wanted to create a program that would enable on-demand provisioning. This is important since the VDIworks lab consists primarily of emerging software that requires updates each time a new build or patch is released. If I didn't find a solution that matched the criteria I would end up spending most of my time updating software instead of managing training.
The distance training requirement 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 our headquarters. Creating a new class from scratch in a traditional distance learning 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, I 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 execute.
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, I wanted only the best for our training lab.
The first technology I considered was server virtualization management software but those products only addressed half of what we wanted to accomplish. And the upfront 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.
The Best of Both Worlds: Virtualization + Remote Access
After looking at stand alone virtualization platforms and distance learning tools, we found Skytap. Skytap's Virtual Lab "in the cloud" satisfied all 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 my 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 other purposes, such 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, I can easily access the lab through my 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. Skytap lets a student instantly generate that configuration onto their desktop—whether they are sitting with me in the classroom, or half-way around the world in Tokyo, Japan. Additionally, Skytap's Learning Management System and template-driven interface has proven to be a huge time saver, which is one of my personal favorites.
Skytap gave us the solution we needed to accomplish all our objectives with a limited budget, and launch a new training program in record time. Our students are excited about using the new distance learning option, and we've been able to lower our tuition rates by 66 percent. My productivity also improved—I can set up and tear down complex, multi-tiered environments 90 percent faster. What's more, the new program facilitates collaboration across globally distributed teams using a shared virtual infrastructure.
If you're ready to take your technology training program online but are unsure of how to get there, I hope my experiences will give you some pointers on where to begin and what to consider. Shifting from a physical, brick and mortar training lab to an efficient, state-of-the-art virtual lab can be easier and more affordable than you think.
Shannon Lear Martin is training manager of VDIworks, a developer of software designed to enable IT managers to centrally create, deploy, and manage both their virtual and physical desktops. She uses Skytap’s Virtual Lab to support the company's online and on-site training programs. For more information, visit www.vdiworks.com.