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Plymouth University on course for the future

In the UK’s biggest higher education IT refresh project to date, Plymouth University adopted a ‘big bang’ approach to replacing its entire fleet of 6,000 devices — choosing ICT manufacturer Viglen and partner Toshiba to carry out the £3.9m contract.

IT provision is an increasingly important issue in helping universities recruit and retain students. With tuition fees currently averaging £9,000 a year, students are looking for the best possible value for money and attend open days armed with lots of questions about resources and expectations of access to all the latest kit, wireless infrastructure and apps.
“Students don’t want to see a five year old computer chugging along, so it’s more important than it’s ever been that we have the latest technology and keep all our computers looking good,” explained Plymouth University’s senior project manager Joe Grant.

About the University

With over 32,000 students and 3,000+ staff, Plymouth is the largest university in the South West of England and is consistently ranked as one of the top five modern universities in the UK. Its reputation for top-quality teaching and innovation is backed by the application of leading-edge IT, relying on up-to-date operating systems and the latest technology to enable remote access to the PCs as well as management of the power state of the PCs and security features.

The Challenge
Plymouth University

Rather than run a rolling programme of upgrades, the Plymouth IT team prefers to replace all the desktop and laptop equipment in one fell swoop. “It is challenging, but this type of ‘big bang’ roll out has a number of advantages for us,” said Joe. “It allows us to adopt a truly homogenous approach and is the most costeffective way to manage a large fleet like ours. For example, we have used just four models throughout the entire university — two types of desktop and two laptops — which makes for far easier management and maintenance of the service.”
This standardisation of the equipment reduces the cost of support. Further benefits include the fact that the Viglen and Toshiba products are robust, and our contract with Viglen includes enough flexibility to support a four to five year life cycle, offering great continuity. Additionally, because the replacement of IT happens just once every four to five years, this solution keeps disruption to a minimum. The university’s professional staff and their students are a vocal and demanding group of users who warrant no disruption to their teaching and learning.
Viglen was the incumbent supplier, having handled the previous upgrade in 2007. Five years on it won the refresh contract against stiff competition from other suppliers on Lot 3 of the National Desktop and Notebook Agreement (NDNA) Framework. The NDNA was formed in 2009 when six higher education purchasing consortiums got together to create a framework to simplify the tendering process. The framework helps HE institutions find the best supplier by listing only those who have already passed rigorous evaluation and testing, so that the final decision can be based on more project-specific criteria. Viglen is rated number one on Lot 1 (desktops), number one on Lot 2 as supplier of Toshiba laptops and number one on Lot 3 (one stop shop) for the supply of both. As well as being deemed ‘best value’ on the NDNA Framework overall, in the mini-tender for Plymouth University, Viglen again proved to be best value and best positioned to deliver this complex project, winning in a 5-way pitch.

The Solution

The Viglen solution involved a ‘cradle-to-grave’ desktop PC and laptop fleet management service. Firstly, all the old kit had to be data destructed, taken off site and either disposed of in line with WEEE legislation or returned to the leasing company. Then, prior to delivery, Viglen began asset-tagging and configuring the new kit with the University’s disk image, including 250 different applications. Then came the deployment to the desktop, which involved supplying 3,100 Viglen Genie Slim desktops, 550 Viglen Genie Medium desktops, 6,600 Philips monitors, 160 Toshiba Tecra laptops, 1,700 Toshiba Portege laptops, 1,860 Toshiba docking stations and 2,000 Ergotron laptop stands. At this stage the asset tagging was completed and recorded on a SharePoint portal deployed onsite on Toshiba Android tablets to give Viglen and university staff a complete record of all the equipment by serial number and allowing identification of its network point, room location and primary user details. When a PC moves, Viglen can update the database to include the PC’s new location details and any other changes.
Plymouth University staff  
Implementation of the contract came with a bevy of challenges unique to a ‘live’ university environment. “It is a bit unusual in several respects and we needed a supplier who could handle that,” said Joe. “For example, different staff have different types of computers — it’s not vanilla, like supplying a bank. Overall it was a huge logistical exercise making sure all the right equipment was in place for the right person.”
The university is a varied environment, including medical and clinical laboratories, as well as administration offices. In addition to the main site at Drake Circus in the centre of Plymouth, the university operates more than 15 remote sites up to an hour’s drive away — as far as Redruth in Cornwall to the west and Taunton to the east — which were all included in the refresh. It had to be business as usual at every location throughout the installation, when Viglen engineers were installing as many as 150 new machines a day in students labs and 50 devices in staff areas. As well as the requirement for top quality customer service to meet the high expectations of university staff and students, the whole job was time critical. The installation window was August to December 2012, with all the student kit needed in place for the start of term in September and the staff kit in straight after that. Viglen completed the work in time and on budget.
“The response from our users has been overwhelmingly positive. The customer experience has been good, with minimal disruption to schedules”, said Joe.

The Result

This total refresh of all devices means the whole university is now using Windows 7, with the very latest Intel Core Architecture so that log in is faster and all the devices are delivering higher performance. “In terms of technical developments, we are futureproofed for the next four or five years, this time we added 50 per cent more laptops for our professional staff and installed docking stations to allow them more flexibility around mobile working. This encourages hot-desking and more efficient use of space.” said Joe.
At the same time, the new devices are more efficient and use far less power. The university estimates a 60 per cent increase in power cost savings for its IT fleet — equivalent to 3.9k tonnes of CO2 — over the five year period of this new contract, even before turning on the power management facility. Support staff can also monitor usage and power manage devices centrally — for example make all the devices wake up or go to sleep at a particular time.
“We expect a further 35% saving on each device once our power management scheme is rolled out, utilising Intel vPro technology,” said Joe.
Alongside this are additional savings on maintenance and support costs. Most of the management can be undertaken remotely, rather than necessitating site visits.

“Everyone is pleased with the installation, from our chief information officer John Wright, through to our students. We surveyed students to measure their satisfaction with the new fleet of computers and we’ve had some very positive responses. For example over 90 per cent of students rated the speed of our computers as good or very good and 86 per cent said login times were good or very good.”
Joe Grant
Senior Project Manager, Plymouth University
We very much value our relationship with Plymouth University and enjoyed being involved in their ‘big bang’ approach to IT, as they stay ahead of the curve and offer their students the very best resources and facilities they can. For technology to truly deliver on its promise within the sector, power, performance and innovation are not enough.
It must be extremely cost-effective and be able to deliver the ultra-high levels of reliability and value for money that are increasingly demanded by the current economic climate.”
Bordan Tkachuk
Viglen CEO