Many organizations dream of having an entirely virtual, on-demand, cloud-based training program for multiple audiences with varied needs including customers, employees, and partners. Depending on their needs, they may want to allow customers to work through training modules at their own pace from any location or device, or they might need to run hundreds of salespeople located in multiple time zones through hands-on product demos as efficiently as possible.
IT and/or corporate training departments are challenged to create virtual training environments that can be easily controlled, adaptable to end user needs and scalable. Doing this at scale with lean training teams gets very difficult very quickly. But without hands-on experience with the product, training will be much less effective.
Companies in this situation must solve four back-end IT issues to offer virtual training successfully for these products. These same four issues also apply to spinning up product demos or POCs for prospective customers, creating and delivering demos for trade shows and analyst briefings, or offering virtual product trials.
Organizations must be able to create virtual lab environments quickly and easily. Virtual training events or conferences can easily require up to 1,000 virtual machines. Doing this quickly becomes challenging for most IT/training teams—even for those who have made significant investments in automation. This challenge is further amplified by the demand for more complex lab environments that require multiple VMs, intricate network topologies, and other critical dependencies as these can take significant time and knowledge to configure and provision.
In practice, supporting large numbers of virtual students requires automating part or all of the provisioning process. The best solution is the ability to create a master template for lab environments that can be duplicated for each student. This removes a huge amount of work for the IT and/or training team, dramatically increases the number of customers that can be served, and instills a level of confidence that all student lab environments will be available on-time and functioning properly. Script-based approaches to automatic provisions also exist, but do not provide the speed to satisfy many on-demand needs, are more prone to error and far more difficult to adapt to changes.
And interestingly, even simpler lab environments requiring a single VM can also benefit from the enhanced features provided by mature virtual labs solutions. “Over-the-shoulder” viewing and lab-integrated content are just two examples among the many capabilities offered for both instructor-led and self-paced training modalities.
What happens when a student accidentally breaks their lab environment? What if a student joins an instructor-led course at the last minute? Last-minute issues with lab settings and configurations always crop up. If IT must get involved to solve these issues, the training will grind to a halt. If an instructor has some level of control, then they can solve some of these last-minute issues without derailing the entire training. This means designing a way for less-technical people to perform some these functions:
- Extend, reschedule or cancel lab access
- Restore a lab to a given state at any time
- Add new participants to a class or event
Instructors also benefit from comprehensive administrative tools for full visibility and control of classrooms, as virtual labs solutions offer over-the-should access to lab environments for personalized instruction to enhance student experience and learning outcomes.
Global availability and performance
Latency becomes a problem when organizations offer training globally but run lab environments in an on-premises data center. For example, customers in Europe will have high latency connecting to a data center in California, and probably have a subpar experience. Virtual labs providers with a global footprint offer enough flexibility for training organizations to provide students with labs within close proximity for acceptable performance, and some even provide built-in intelligent geolocation capabilities that automatically address this problem for self-service scenarios. This is particularly important as latency issues can negatively impact student and instructor experiences, and ultimately create a negative perception for your brand and product offering.
If an organization wants to offer self-paced learning, they will need a technical solution that allows users to create their own lab environments. This means that the process of spinning up and provisioning the lab environment must be completely automated. They will also need a way to maintain control over labs without the structure of a class and an instructor keeping an eye on things. Self-led learning creates a risk of unauthorized users creating labs, or approved users running up costs by accidentally creating too many labs or not destroying them after they’re done. Addressing these concerns requires even more technical capabilities, like working with single sign-on or integrating with learning management systems.
Behind the scenes
A smooth training process ultimately leads to happier customers and more knowledgeable and effective sales teams and partner organizations. But companies shouldn’t underestimate the amount of IT work that goes on behind the scenes to make these programs successful. Organizations with complex software products that want to improve their training programs must be realistic about how well they can solve these four issues, and where they might need to upgrade their capabilities with support from a cloud-hosted virtual labs provider.