Educational establishments need to ensure any investment in technology works long-term and can support, not inhibit, emerging academic service expectations. The key to this is to get the ‘back end’ right first time. By this, I mean everything students, academics and professional services colleagues don’t see – the servers, storage systems, network devices and so on. People want to access their personal work data when away from campus, use their own devices on campus, create rich media content and store it – safe in the knowledge that it’s secure and accessible at any time. Fundamentally, the user community needs to rely on that ‘back end’ not to let them down.
A big problem
At UCS, we learned this the hard way. The storage area network (SAN) we used to store student, academic and business data, implemented a number of years earlier, had become unreliable and difficult to manage. As a new institution we had grown rapidly and it had reached the point that no one trusted the system to support continued growth. The situation created a lot of frustration and seriously impacted service levels, damaging our image as an innovative institution.
A bigger solution
After considering our options, John Herd, our network manager, recommended what felt like a bold decision: to scrap the ‘back end’ entirely and partner with IT company, Fujitsu, to migrate all data onto an entirely new Fujitsu SAN, designed to be reliable, robust and future-proof. The physical transition was very swift, with the bulk of the activity taking place over a weekend. The speed of transformation was greatly assisted by undertaking a long planning phase, which John used to simplify the ‘back end’, neatly condensing older technologies and services into manageable units. By letting go of the old, we created something fast and stable that restored confidence and improved productivity.
Since then, we have been able to evolve far more rapidly and support enhanced service aspirations from all sections of the institution. Most importantly, our new system is designed to be upgradeable and expandable – so we wont be in a situation where we have to ‘rip and replace’ everything again for a number of years.
The decision didn’t come easily; for organisations on limited budgets, attempting to fix an ailing system may remain an appealing option. But for those institutions still squeezing every last drop of capability out of a legacy infrastructure at the risk of impacting educational wellbeing, the initial expenditure will always be worth it in the long run. If you truly want to encourage innovation in education and the active embracing of technology, you do sometimes need to consider a blank canvas.”