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Lancaster University drives global growth through digital groundwork

Lancaster University is one of the best universities in the UK. To thrive in an increasingly competitive, global marketplace it needs to be digitally innovative to support research data, curriculum, and student engagement. A hyperconverged infrastructure built on VMware solutions ensures the agility, efficiency and security to adapt quickly to new opportunities.

The UK’s university sector has been a major revenue generator over the past ten years. The total income of UK universities was £35.7 billion in 2018, only half of which came from tuition fees.

The sector has overseen an extended period of investment, with new accommodation and new facilities. Student numbers are at a record high. One of the most visible changes, other than the new buildings, is how international the sector has become. In 2018, international students numbered 458,490, or 19.6 percent of the total student population, while 20 percent of all staff at UK universities are international. Some courses are staffed up to 43 percent by overseas academics.

International students represent a fine market opportunity for UK universities. UK universities have a good reputation and English remains the international business language. Tuition fees range from £10,000 to £23,000 a year, higher than universities can charge for domestic students. But there is always a ceiling. There is a limit to the number of people who want to study in the UK.

Taking the campus overseas

If the students won’t come to the UK, then the universities must go to the students. An increasing number of UK universities are opening campuses overseas.

The Economist says there are 39 British universities with overseas campuses, from Middlesex University’s site in Mauritius to Glasgow Caledonian’s branch in Bangladesh. In total there are 26,000 students receiving a UK university education overseas. This number will rise.

Lancaster University is among the best in the UK. Top 10 in three major national league tables, it is also highly ranked in international league tables. It has around 12,000 full-time students, from 142 countries. Its vision is to be a sustainable and academically excellent institution recognized as one of the leading universities in the world. It will not achieve this by sitting at home.

In recent years the university has formed partnerships with universities in Ghana, China, Malaysia and Germany. It has research partnerships in over 60 countries around the world. It now wants to extend its digital reach.

Digital Lancaster is the university’s digital vision. It sets out the ambition to be digitally innovative in support of the university’s global strategy. Digital Lancaster must support research, teaching and engagement. Its themes are agility, security, openness and an emphasis on consistency and a quality user experience. For this to happen Lancaster University needs a robust, secure IT platform. It requires a responsive IT infrastructure that is able to adapt to changes. It needs to be able to store and access a growing amount of data, and to keep this data safe. And, for an organization with limited resources, it needs all this to be simple to manage.

Creating a hyperconverged infrastructure

Lancaster University is a long time VMware customer. The engagement has proved to be a productive one. Successive projects have delivered the required efficiency, with minimal downtime. The latest project creates a hyperconverged infrastructure. The VMware solution consists of three import products, addressing Lancaster’s most pressing concerns: efficient data storage, security governance and simplified management: VMware vSAN, VMware NSX®, and VMware vRealize® Suite.

Strengthening data security and IT control

The engagement with VMware enables the university to accelerate its Digital Lancaster initiative, reducing the strain on IT team and freeing budget resources. As the university expands overseas, it strengthens data security and IT control.

Creating a hyperconverged infrastructure has reduced operational costs, strengthened security, and created an environment that is less complex. Lancaster University has moved its entire corporate estate across to vSAN.

“It’s produced some fantastic gains in terms of scalability and dynamism. We can move resources around really easily. We don’t have to worry about storage anymore,” says Dr Matt Storey, Head of Storage and Virtualization, Lancaster University.

For example, rather than replicating data between data centers with the traditional SAN environment, vSAN has transformed Lancaster University’s disaster recovery approach. Workloads are moved seamlessly in the event of an error.

The university has embraced the virtualization of networking. It can spin up whole new environments and use NSX Data Center to ensure access is restricted. It can then cookie-cutter these environments to deliver them again and again. The result is a more dynamic research environment. Lancaster University is better able to work with third parties on research projects, anywhere in the world, while keeping workloads separate.

The result, says Storey, is Lancaster University now has an IT environment that can adapt to the needs of a global research community, and supports students and faculty: “We can open up our digital resources. We’re now a digitally innovative university. The ability for us to be digitally innovative is built on VMware solutions.”


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