Salford University CIO puts chemistry before tech

University of Salford tech chief Derek Drury says the IT team is what really counts...

...provide technology support for research staff and students in a more efficient way.

Another element of the new infrastructure has been the consolidation of payroll, HR and finance processes, as well as improvements to information document management and shared workflow - all of which will drive further efficiencies.

The potential to share infrastructure

As well as providing services for students, the university is also considering sharing its spare capacity with other institutions and is talking to several organisations about providing shared services.

In some cases, these services could be for disaster recovery but there is also the possibility that virtual learning environments could be shared with other organisations.

With university funding likely to be squeezed in the next few years, avoiding the expense of paying multiple licence fees and taking advantage of economies of scale could become increasingly attractive.

The university is also looking to take part in the Janet education and research network for higher education and work with Jisc, an organisation that encourages innovative use of digital technology to boost the UK's global standing in education.

Desktop virtualisation

Another significant technology implementation on the cards is desktop virtualisation, which could have a major impact on the university's 5,500 PCs.

"There's only one driver [for desktop virtualisation] and that's cost isn't it?" Drury said.

"The replacement cycle on [thin clients] is much longer, the kit is cheaper and the power usage is significantly lower. So when you're running 5,500 desktops, if you can halve your power usage then you've made a tremendous impact on the green agenda for the university," he added.

A pilot of 200 PCs will commence once the IT department has full access to the new datacentre infrastructure. The pilot will use virtualisation technology from Quest and initially stick with the Windows XP image already in place.

Depending on user feedback, the technology will be rolled out to 3,000 desktop computers – mainly in learning labs - over the course of the next 18 months. The other 2,500 PCs that won't be virtualised are used for specialist work such as 3D graphics, which is less suited to virtualisation.

As well as the cost and environmental benefits of desktop virtualisation, it will also mean the management of the desktop estate should be easier.

"By making the most of [the PCs'] virtual desktops we can control it, get the best out of the licences - so there's a whole management thing as well as a cost thing there," Drury said.

Tablets and the cloud

Drury's team has been looking at the potential of cloud computing and already runs the Live@Edu software-as-a-service technology for the university email system.

"The impact [of using Live@Edu] on the students has been absolutely tremendous - they've got huge amounts of space, they've got a very reliable service and they've got an interface that looks like it's in this century," Drury said.

The department is currently working out...