Technology is embedded firmly in the DNA of Imperial College London. For the world class institution, technology makes course delivery engaging, compelling and interactive. No longer are students tied to the lecture theatre - instead they can access course materials whenever and wherever they happen to be.
No longer is the lecturer expected to impart knowledge in a linear fashion, at the front of a class. Digital technologies are empowering students to learn in their own way - investigating and solving real-world problems, rather than ingesting and regurgitating rote material.
Experts talk about the skills gap, where there aren’t enough graduates to meet the needs of employers. The ability to close this skills gap is absolutely hinged on the investment in, and adoption of, digital technologies.
Simply put, digital learning enhances employability. With technology now underpinning virtually every industry, ultimately, it’s the ability to leverage technology and to challenge the status quo that will determine whether companies - and even whole industries - succeed. Imperial College is a trailblazing institution, setting the standard for all educators in innovative technology use.
However, this commitment to digitally powered pedagogy means that Imperial College London is reliant on technology in order for its employees and students to function. It’s no exaggeration to say that ensuring that its tech provision is resilient and future proofed is make-or-break for the university.
Paul Jennings, head of ICT service operations at Imperial College London tells us that when he joined in 2014, the College had not invested adequately in its data centre. “Firstly, both of our facilities were situated on the same campus” he says. “This gave us an obvious single point of failure”.
And for Imperial this was a valid, and pressing, concern. The university had already suffered from a number of power outages, cooling and UPS failures and even water damage from building work to its on-premise data centre - incidents which didn’t just cause a temporary loss of service but had significant knock on effects to productivity and research.
The data centre solution
The make or break nature of keeping its IT up and running proved to Imperial that the data centre really did sit at the heart of its organisation: vitally important to ensuring research, teaching and learning - and even relationships with suppliers and customers - could run smoothly.
In looking to overhaul its data centre strategy, Imperial faced the perennial build vs buy dilemma. The team knew though, that outsourcing to a third colocation party provided the best protection against increasing data centre complexity, cost and risk.
It was important that its expensive Kensington location wasn’t used to store IT. Instead, by relocating its data centre provision, this space could be repurposed for teaching and learning - bringing immediate and significant benefits to students and staff alike.
For Imperial, the colocation option also addressed resilience, helping to reduce outages and support business continuity strategies. Simply, when outsourcing with multiple connectivity options, the potential for carrier failure is reduced, protecting critical applications and infrastructure performance.
Additionally - if disaster does strike - it’s these companies’ business to get you up and running again as quickly as possible. With resilience such a crucial tenet of success, the expertise of dedicated providers was compelling.
In order to enhance availability, resilience, security, and importantly, to provide expansion for future growth, Imperial chose VIRTUS Data Centres to power its Data Centre Relocation project.
The three-year programme will move the college’s data centre provision to new state-of-the art facilities in Slough. The Slough facility. LONDON4, offers scalable services designed to support high density computing and offered the flexibility, resilience, scalability and reliability that Imperial needs.
It also provides simple and resilient access to public clouds for the ideal hybrid cloud solution location that Imperial is moving to towards for fast and reliable access. The VIRTUS LONDON4 facility is part of a shared research institution framework agreement, brokered through Jisc, which ensured value for money.
By using a data centre contracted through a higher education framework, Imperial College is co-located with 23 university and research tenants including The Francis Crick Institute, University College London, University of Bristol and Kings College, affording opportunities for collaborative working. The data centre also has a direct connection to the Janet Network to provide fast, low cost connectivity for research collaboration.
Importantly, the partnership with VIRTUS has allowed Imperial to adopt an innovative approach to designing its architecture, built to include a multi zoned network - which separates its data centres on the network to vastly improve resilience.
The adoption challenge
Even with a digitally progressive team IT overhauls can be daunting. A move away from on premise infrastructure could have represented a loss of control for staff. It was important that the team at Imperial recognised this was a cultural, not just a technology challenge - just as all of its technology use is driven by pedagogical goals, rather than IT ones.
It’s important to realise that whilst technology adoption can be daunting, and represents a big change for an institution, the benefits of the investment far outweigh any apprehensions.
It might be a big jump to say that, just as there are now taxi companies with no taxis, and hotels with no owned rooms, so there might one day be universities with no physical campuses.
However, the premise of this ‘shared economy’ is a valuable one - and the use of technology can open access to learning up for all. It can make quality education widely available, and tailor teaching specifically to students changing priorities and needs.
For this to happen, technology projects must be underpinned by reliable and resilient infrastructure - which can scale and adapt with an institution’s rapidly changing needs.
Kelly Scott, account director, education, for VIRTUS Data Centres