Much of what Alan Broadaway had to do when he arrived as head of ICT for the University of Greenwich was around streamlining the college’s systems. It was a process of ticking off the most obvious challenges first.
When he came in (in 2006), his first project was to rationalise the server portfolio with virtualisation. The college invested £2m in switching from a lot of small separate units to blade servers and a storage area network.
The research branches of the university rely heavily on bandwidth-hungry applications, like computer modelling and the existing infrastructure was causing them to vie with each other for scarce resources.
“Before, people would get just so much disk space and no more, but now we can give people all the disk space they need to do their job,” he says.
One of the biggest projects on Broadaway’s roster was a refresh and upgrade of the university’s telephony system. The existing Philips comms network is still robust but as the college has grown, peak periods of activity such as when applicants’ A-level results come out in August result in thousands of calls coming in every hour. The system was not up to the job.
“I did some calculations and went back to the physics and looked at the signs and said: it just can’t cope anymore,” he says.
After putting the job out to a Europe-wide tender, Broadaway worked with Siemens to provide an IP voice and data network. One of the attractions is the ability to streamline all communications onto the desktop and do away with phone handsets.
Data routing is Cisco-based across the three campuses and Broadaway chose Thus as the telecoms service provider. The project is a seven-figure investment for the college.
Not only should it make telephony more robust, even during usage spikes, but it should open up opportunities for savings too. The IP network will also allow Broadaway’s successor to consider next-generation in-college communications.
The university is also piloting unified communications which will allow staff to take calls wherever they are on any of the campuses. They and the students will be able to take advantage of the e-learning opportunities that come with videoconferencing and instant messaging when the system is rolled out.
Broadaway claims Greenwich will be a leader in UK universities on this.
The design phase started in mid-2010 and the project is already rolling out. Broadaway expects a six-to-nine month roll-out and that the new integrated network will be up and running by September 2011, in time for the next academic year.
Another million-pound project concentrates on optimising college equipment. Audiovisual resources are essential in education, but maintaining equipment and even keeping track of its whereabouts is a big problem.
Broadaway was working with audiovisual equipment specialist Impact Marcom and control systems supplier AMX to link up the college’s classrooms.
“All new equipment is linked together over the university’s network and so from a single connected workstation, which doesn’t have to be on site, we can monitor all the data projectors and classroom equipment. Before, when equipment was left on, lamps would burn out. Now we can turn things off remotely and there is proactive changing of lamps,” he explains.
The next stage of the year-old project, Broadaway adds, was to implement a timetabling application so that when a lecturer comes in at the start of their day, the teaching facilities are up and ready for them.
Another monitoring project involves Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tagging all the books in the Greenwich campus library. RFID tagging projects have been experimented with in a variety of environments with mixed results, but this implementation is in a closed distribution loop and provides immediate benefits.
Students no longer have to check books in and out at the counter and librarians know at once whether a book is available. Broadaway says the reaction from the students has been instant approval, and was considering extending the scheme to other assets.