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Simplifying IT infrastructure for better student experience

IT is the backbone of education, especially in the post-COVID world. Read up on how one university partnered with a tech start-up to boost student experience and IT together

Simplifying IT infrastructure for a better student experience

Over the years, Canterbury Christ Church University has become a crucial centre for the education of healthcare and teaching professionals. CCCU is not only a cornerstone of talent and creativity, but a genuine innovator in the field of STEM education and a provider of research that impacts the UK and the entire world.

Given the university’s vital role in healthcare education, it cannot afford any downtime and must provide top-notch user experience. As such, it requires a robust technical backdrop: in the university’s case, this is a team of 68 IT professionals serving a 26,000-strong student community and 1,800 staff members.

It’s no easy feat to keep this IT infrastructure running, especially considering how CCCU is set up. It is spread over three campuses in southern England and has partnerships with other institutions globally and in the UK. Such an organisation has unique needs, such as high-performance software which can support programmes used by the different participating universities.

For CCCU’s partnership with the University of Kent, for example, in which the region’s first medical school was created, it was pivotal that students remain connected to all platforms. This included access to the original infrastructure of the University of Kent, the network of the new organisation, Medway Medical School, as well as CCCU’s desktop service. To further complicate things, the latter needed to be reachable from campus and several NHS locations.

Another challenge came in the form of COVID-19, which prompted the university to provide staff with hybrid working models and policies. This meant converting on-premises remote desktop services, or RDS, to enable access to campus desktops across all sites.

As a first step, in 2020, the IT team implemented generic student desktops to provide access to university resources. But this still left the significant challenge of maintaining and scaling the system for a large user base.

“We required a cloud-first strategy both to become more cost-effective but also accommodate a hybrid model” said Dave Hailwood, Platform and Systems Manager at Canterbury Christ Church University. “We did not have the extremely specific expertise required to maintain on-prem alternatives, and these also lacked the flexibility we needed for our organisation.”

Customising technology tools to meet the needs of CCCU

When it was time to renew the initial RDS licenses, Hailwood opted for Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop solution to facilitate the university’s hybrid model and simplify the creation of host pools for each department. While this enhanced functionality, the IT team at the university still needed a comprehensive automation solution beyond the Azure admin portal.

That is where Nerdio joined the equation. Simply put, Nerdio provides solutions designed to make the deployment and management of cloud environments easier. The university imported its systems into Nerdio’s flagship platform catered to enterprise IT needs, Nerdio Manager for Enterprise. This helped IT teams easily and quickly scale its virtual desktops, which meant that more students had uninterrupted access to the necessary portals, and there were fewer interruptions in their studies.

The university was also able to optimise costs this way, which was a key point specifically for the School of Engineering, Technology and Design department, which often incurred significant costs due to particularly sophisticated technology requirements.

“The Nerdio technology made it much easier for my team to manage systems while also providing a great service to our users,” said Hailwood.

Better experiences for staff and students alike

We all know that a strong technical backdrop to platforms is a non-negotiable for education at university level. This is especially true in the modern world, when so much of teaching is carried out in an online or hybrid setting. As a result, it was crucial for CCCU that the adoption be seamless and ideally also improve user experience.

“We were grateful to have found a solution that helped us maintain a good level of service and also provide flexibility” said Hailwood. “Automated and easy-to-use features allowed us to create bespoke environments for specific departments while still keeping costs low, with proper testing and rollout. Our users have never been happier with the experience.”

Creating new host pools in such a complicated system could have taken weeks, or months, which would have created issues and significant downtime for the university. But using Nerdio’s technology, the team managed to wrap this up in just a day.

It was not just students who benefited. The team was also able to customise desktops to better serve the academics who rely on technology to teach and learn. The results in satisfaction and user experience were tangible, as the number of IT tickets has significantly reduced.

We all know that 2023 is the year of efficiency, when organisations are having to do more with less”, said Tom Archer, UK regional sales manager at Nerdio. “We are proud to be working with CCCU to navigate the university’s tech evolution through a cost-of-living crisis. It is extremely rewarding to work on projects where the final product is not just better performance, but also brilliant education and globally relevant research”.

By Tom Archer, Regional Sales Manager, UK at Nerdio

Tom is Regional Sales Manager, UK at Nerdio, based out of London and leading the growth of Nerdio’s Enterprise business in the region. Tom has been working in end-user computing technology for the last 8 years. Previously he worked for a digital experience monitoring vendor, meaning he has a real focus on helping organizations deliver an excellent IT experience to its employees. Outside of working for Nerdio, Tom enjoys playing cricket and rugby and loves travelling abroad when time allows.

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