By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

Two Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) information technology professionals wowed the crowd at this year’s Labman computer lab managers conference by presenting a live demonstration of their Remote Lab 2.0 software, which they recently released as open-source code.

The innovative software lets distance students virtually access resources and reserve user time in the computer labs at their home campuses. It’s an application that is particularly useful for students who study remotely and may never set foot on their campus, as well as those who are in proximity to the school but find the computer labs are full when they try to access them, said Michael Fudge Jr., senior systems and IT support administrator and an adjunct faculty member at the iSchool.

In fact, the issue of students having difficulty reserving and accessing computer lab time is what prompted Fudge, together with iSchool computer consultant Matthew Schug, develop the software in the first place. Their idea began in 2010 when the Labman conference was held at nearby SUNY-Oswego. What they devised is a solution that provides a low barrier to entry, versus the option of going with expensive, vendor-produced products, Fudge said. “This is a no-cost solution using the resources that are already in place,” he added.

While Fudge handled development, Schug managed the engineering. Both made decisions on how to create the architecture. (This 2012 article describes their process, and how students can access the labs remotely via the iSchool website.)

Because their initial concept was specific to the iSchool’s needs, however, they decided to rework their code so that others might adopt it for use at their own institutions, Schug said. In the ensuing summers after 2010, they spent time fine-tuning their work, eventually deciding to redesign it from the ground up. “We usually spend most of May on how to improve and change for the upcoming academic year,” Schug said. “This summer, we felt that if the program was a finished-enough product that other people could use it, we should release it for others to try.”

At the conference, which is attended by university computer lab managers from the U.S. and throughout the world, Fudge and Schug presented a talk on their innovation. Adding flair to their product demo, the pair offered a live presentation of how Remote Lab works. As Fudge described how they developed the software, Schug logged onto GitHub, downloaded the code’s source files, and created a real-time display for conference attendees.

“We set it up in front of everyone then pre-printed user card names and passwords, handed them out, then linked people remotely to the lab web site. The demonstration allowed conference attendees to log in and try the program then and there as they saw it on-screen. Everyone was impressed,” Fudge noted. From the feedback they received, Schug said, it appears that several other lab managers may try the code at their own institutions. They now hope that the lab manager community will review their code, use it, and even improve upon it, they said. Both Fudge and Schug are available to discuss their work, as well, and they encourage anyone with questions to contact them.

The pair also took part in a panel discussion at the conference, participating with representatives of Citrix, Lenovo, and Symantec, and had the opportunity to discuss with those large companies the intricacies of their efforts, and what makes their product different from what other developers have done or what is offered on the market, Fudge said.

A short video illustrating the concepts behind Remote Lab is available online, as is a Slideshare presentation. A video of the Labman 2014 presentation can be found here, and the project website can be accessed at: