The Training Bus
A dead end in the evolution
of service delivery
toward cloud computing?
by: C.J. Meidlinger
While on a recent long drive, I remembered an idea for a training delivery solution that some colleagues and I brainstormed back around the turn of the century. The idea was to put a classroom on wheels and bring the training to students. In the form of a trailer or bus, this classroom would have server grade computer hardware, projector and screen, dry erase boards, and anything else you would find in a typical classroom. The idea had several names, but I thought of it as the Training Bus.
The idea for the training bus came about as a response to the training challenges of the time. It was more expensive to send twelve students to the instructor than to send one instructor to the twelve students. But in sending the instructor to the students, technical problems such as under-powered hardware and disk image incompatibilities arose. The disk image incompatibilities were initially solved through deployment scripts that would alter the image to fit the local hardware, but soon, virtualization was identified as the best way to handle the hardware differences of the many training facilities. Virtualization, however, demanded some resource overhead and the under-powered hardware problem was only amplified by using virtualization. Moore's law was rapidly pushing the capability of server hardware and IBM was creating more powerful software to take advantage of the hardware gains, but classrooms in training facilities were a lower priority for many organizations and the hardware there was often a generation or two old.
Remote access was well established at the time and we experimented with using those technologies for delivering training, but the human response was negative in these attempts. Most who were accustomed to in-person instructors and direct physical access to computers during a training event were not ready to give up that level of access. So the Training Bus was one of the ideas that we considered to bring the technology to the students, wherever they were.
There were, however, some problems with the Training Bus. If we taught a class in New York and the Training Bus had to be in San Diego the next week, the drive time was too great to move it comfortably. Would we need multiple Training Buses for various regions? The Training Bus also required an investment in transportation hardware in addition to standard classroom hardware. Who would maintain the vehicle? Also, who would drive the bus from place to place? Would there be a requirement for a new employee? Would the trainers take turns driving the bus from place to place? One can see that although the Training Bus answered some of the challenges that we faced at the time, it also introduced new ones.
If we now fast-forward to 2013 and look at the current state of training delivery, we see that cloud computing addresses many of the challenges that we have faced historically. Luckily, organizations are more accepting of online and remote education than they were in the early 2000s. There is certainly a trade-off when one elects remote training over in-person training, but the less personal form of training is justified when thousands of dollars can be saved. In those cases where we still deliver in-person training, we often use remote systems for lab exercises. The remote systems are a modern form of the Training Bus. We have dedicated hardware which might be used in New York one week and San Diego the next, but instead of driving it from location to location using a bus or tractor trailer, we use the internet to access the stationary remote systems. And in the case of online delivery, we often have students, instructors, lab equipment, and lecture hub dispersed throughout the world with many of our deliveries.
The idea of the Training Bus is dead, but many of the challenges that the Training Bus answered are also met with cloud computing solutions (and cloud computing is much cheaper). The ability to deploy resources from anywhere in the world to satisfy a local need is pretty fantastic and has provided many organizations with a competitive advantage over the last several years. With the ubiquity of high speed internet access, the idea of shipping or driving high-end hardware from location to location becomes more and more laughable each day. The Training Bus is dead, long live cloud computing!
C. J. Meidlinger is a technical enablement specialist with the IBM Cloud and Smarter Infrastructure team. Among other things, he delivers online training from his home in Appalachia to technologists worldwide using cutting edge cloud technologies.