Cabrillo program provides vocational training for the 21st century

By Ryan Masters, Santa Cruz Sentinel

From a small server room on the Cabrillo College campus, hundreds of information computer technology students from 20 different Northern California community colleges have been accessing top-notch training and professional certification programs.

NetLab, which provides access to real networking lab equipment over the Internet, has completed its first semester of operation and the data is positive.

“Very successful on many levels,” said Gerlinde Brady, the computer and information systems program chair and instructor responsible for obtaining the initial $995,270 grant from the Bay Area Community College Consortium, which made NetLab possible.

According to Brady and data center administrator David Hovey, NetLab produced 62 classes, 576 users and 8,460 user hours across the 20-institution network it served during the fall 2015 semester.

“There’s plenty of room for growth,” said Hovey, a 2014 Cabrillo College graduate. “We have the capacity for 30 schools, depending on what they want to teach.”

NetLab provides training and certification from the most sought-after professional development institutes, including Cisco Networking Academy, VMware IT Academy, EMC Academic Alliance, Linux Professional Institute, CompTIA, Palo Alto Networks and Red Hat Labs.

“NetLab offers 500-plus labs covering everything from basic computer skills to advanced courses in cyber security, virtualization, data storage, operating systems, systems administration and network configuration and design,” said Brady. “Many NetLab users are tech employees looking to upgrade certifications and skills. We also have students who have received job offers at companies like Cisco after completing certifications.”

Hovey said he expects NetLab to continue to grow as the institutions become more familiar with the program.

Top-performing colleges such as Cabrillo, Ohlone, Hartnell and Gavilan logged the most hours last semester because each had a similar system in place before NetLab came online, Brady said.

“Their teachers and students understood the value of the program and already knew how to use it,” she said.

The program will require new funding in fall 2016. The initial one-time grant was supplemented by an additional $650,000 in contributions, bringing NetLab’s total cost to $1.6M. That number is still far less than the cost of installing individual systems at 20 colleges, Brady said.

“The cost of setting each system up is $150,000. The annual licensing and support is $3,000. Plus, you’d need a technical support person at $100,000, plus benefits,” Brady said. “Multiply that by 20 and you’re at $5 million.”

Brady said numerous other benefits of shared access exist, including collaborative curriculum development among instructors and the cross-pollination of ideas among colleges.

“We’re currently looking for ongoing funds and talking to all sorts of people,” Brady said. “If none of that comes through we could always go to a fee-based model.”