University of Manchester CIO refreshes network with Aruba as part of digital drive

Profile picture for user Sooraj Shah By Sooraj Shah July 3, 2019
CIO Malcolm Whitehouse explains why going all-in with Aruba has helped university to be more secure and produce new services for its users

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When Malcolm Whitehouse became CIO at the University of Manchester three years ago, there had not been a lot of change in the university’s technology. It was up to him to create a platform for the long-term that could turn the institution into a digital university.

This didn’t just mean fixing issues within the existing IT infrastructure, but rather looking at large-scale refreshes, with the network and other aspects of IT coming towards the end of life. This is where Whitehouse’s experience at large, high-volume complex organisations like the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and insurer RSA, came in handy, as the university required a new operating model altogether. Talking to diginomica/government at HPE Aruba Atmosphere EMEA 2019 in Croatia, he explains:  

We needed to drive digital capabilities that were going to underpin the university’s ambitions for the next five to ten years as opposed to just today.

This meant putting in place services, processes and tools which would enable the university to differentiate between build, run, strategy, project delivery, transition and operations. Whitehouse adds:

This was about continuous improvement, working on an operating model and building application platforms around it so that the infrastructure would be a common one for students, teaching, research, administration and infrastructure personnel – which wasn’t the norm in universities.

Whitehouse and his team then worked on creating new core platforms for students and researchers that would be based on a consistent infrastructure. He says:

A new student platform goes live in the first week of July, and we’re creating a research administration platform which provides all the tools through a portal that researchers need to do their jobs. This would help them to know where to access resources, where they can get help, understand how they can manage the process of mobilisation with complete acceptance, and how they can manage research data.

In addition, this new platform would have to be able to hold certain research outcomes for 25 years after it has been accessed – meaning it certain data could be held for 50 years or more.

To ensure that these core platforms would work successfully, the University of Manchester had to have the infrastructure components that could support this.

The network was a key component of this infrastructure, and the university selected Roc Technologies to modernise its wired and wireless network services across its entire campus, spanning 126 buildings across Manchester, and supporting 150,000 devices used by students, academics, administration and research partners. Whitehouse says:

We wanted to pick a service provider that could demonstrate its relationship with a technology provider coupled with the ability to use and manage the technology. In addition we wanted a clear roadmap from the technology provider to meet our near-term and long-term objectives.

This is the approach we got from Roc who is our service provider, who made it clear that moving from our Cisco-based data centre and switch model with Aruba, to an end-to-end Aruba model that deals with the core, the edge and consumption was the way to go.

A hybrid-source model

Whitehouse changed the way resources were called-on; meaning that the university could use its own people internally as part of the transformation team, with Roc taking on existing services. He explains:

It means we get the best of breed; knowledge and expertise in transforming the core and edge, as well as working on existing services, so our own people learn and gather skills as part of the process,” he says, adding that this will protect the university from potential risks of not having in-house staff with the appropriate skills.

It ensures we have sufficient capability and knowledge to continue to be an intelligent customer and also means the provider [Roc] has the ability to augment people’s skills through their own staff or through the use of HPE or Aruba staff.

On the selection of Aruba Networks, Whitehouse says that Aruba CEO Keerti Melkote and his team’s strategy is consistent with what the university wants to see. Whitehouse says:

Being able to have intelligence in the platform, and the ability to get analytics around the network are key. For example, a lot of researchers buy their own devices and connect it to our network, which we can currently see as traffic and isolate but we can’t see all of the activities going on. With Aruba we can ensure every device on the network has to be registered and scannable which improves our security position.

The use of analytics won’t just boost security, but will enable new services for its users. He adds:

We’ll be able to track how many people are in every location around campus, so if you want a study space for a certain number of people, you can look at the density of people in the library and decide if you want to go there.

In time, this could become a wayfinding application where students can search for locations which have coffee and food available, that have enough space for seating. Whitehouse concludes:

From a welfare perspective, we have the ability to help track what’s going on so can track when a  student is travelling home at night, and they can notify us if something happens on the their journey.

Using Aruba gives us the ability to do these things, which would be more difficult to achieve if we continued with a mixed Cisco and Aruba environment because they’re not conjoined together in a way that works effectively.