Plymouth University upgrade enables students to stay better connected

Students at Plymouth University now have access to one of the fastest internet connections at any UK higher education institution following a major upgrade.

Technicians spent the summer break overhauling the wired and wireless networks in more than 1,700 student rooms, and other communal areas across the city centre campus.  It means students arriving in University-managed halls this September have instantly been able to access superfast networks through their desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile devices.

The work is part of a rolling investment programme by the University, and forms part of its commitment to provide students with an unrivalled student experience.

Adrian Hollister, Head of Strategy and Architecture in Plymouth University’s Technology and Information Services Directorate, said: “Our students work in an electronic world and enabling them to stay connected is a key part of their academic and personal development. We are presently seeing an average of three wireless devices per student and with the investment from our schools in state of the art IT systems this number is only set to increase. They expect to be able to access internet services wherever they are on campus, and it is vital we are in a position to meet those expectations.”

The four-week upgrade has involved providing a 600Mbit Wireless N service and a 100Mbit wired service, giving students full access to the University’s suite of online resources on all their devices. It will also enable families and friends to access the internet anywhere on campus during visits.

The upgraded service also includes a commitment to enhancing student employability by recruiting ambassadors for the service, who will become the first point of contact and providing out of hours help if required.

John Wright, the University’s Chief Information Officer, added: “Through constant innovation our technology teams are creating an environment where students can stay connected from our Halls of Residence and throughout our campus.  The high performance wireless network in our Halls will create an environment that supports learning and leisure, promoting the student focus that we strive to achieve.”

The new networks will be available to view and test during the University’s Undergraduate Open Day, which takes place on Saturday 19 October. It will also provide an opportunity for prospective students and their families to tour the campus, and meet current students and academics. For more information, visit


Notes to Editors

The recent upgrade took four weeks to complete and involved the installation of 400+ sector-leading Cisco Meraki wireless access points in halls, which have fast data throughput of 600 megabits per second. These devices are connected to the network using 12.5km of high-tech cabling – CAT7 is the latest standard of cabling and is designed to work the next generation of technology and last around 20 years. An additional 8 Cisco Meraki wireless access points have been installed throughout the student village to provide students with WiFi access in popular outdoor areas including North Hill.

For more information about this press release, contact Plymouth University Press & PR Officer Alan Williams on 01752 588004 or email

About Plymouth University

Consistently ranked as one of the leading universities in the UK, and awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2012, Plymouth has a strong record of excellence, enterprise and innovation across its teaching and research activities. Distinguished by its long-term engagement with business and the community, the University enjoys outstanding links with employers and plays a key role in civic and regional leadership. It is the only university in the world to have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark in recognition of its work in support of the sector.

With around 30,000 students, including those studying higher education at its partner colleges throughout the South West, the University is one of largest in the UK. It enjoys a high rate of graduate employment and has recently invested more than £150 million in its estate and facilities to enhance the student experience and support world-class research.

Plymouth has embedded sustainability across its operations, and is the overall best performing university in the People & Planet Green League. It is the first modern university to found a medical and dental school – the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry – and is the leading provider of Higher Education in Cornwall. For more information, please visit


New S&A team member – David Rickhuss

David Rickhuss will be joining the Technology & Information Services Directorate on 30 September to work alongside our existing Client Exec team – Nick Sharratt, Natasha Harden and Dave Fleming.  David has spent the past five years working for Flybe at their head office in Exeter, initially setting up a business analysis function before moving on to establishing and running their IT project office.  Prior to that he worked for the energy giant Centrica delivering IT Projects for British Gas and Centrica Energy.

ALT-C 2013

Last week Naomi Fenn and I travelled to Nottingham to attend ALT-C 2013. This was the 20th anniversary of the conference and, true to form, summarised the current issues surrounding Higher Education, and how Technology could be utilised to respond to them.

A key theme for both myself and Naomi was the challenge that the introduction of student-paid fees had been to the sector, with a particular emphasis on how the fees has changed the relationship between HE and the student. Sessions examined the changed dynamic that was now present, and the danger of simply viewing the student as a consumer of a product that the university provides. They examined the importance of true student engagement and partnership working over a relationship where “the customer is always right”.

Sessions focussed on the need to involve the whole student community when beginning a project as a cross-discipline opportunity; rather than a select group of representatives, who will always be driven by their own perspectives / agendas. It was noted that students are bombarded with surveys – therefore workshops work better. An example of where student engagement would prove critical is in learning design. It was put to the community that staff may become disconnected due to a lack of technology or incorrect use of services. Research by VLE giants Desire to Learn found that students feel at least as confident utilising technology as their tutors. How can we gather student learning requirements if we enforce a top down method?

The challenge remains in ensuring that we as HE professionals remember to view our relationship with students as an essential paradox. Although we may embrace them as partners throughout their time at the university, we must also remember how and why they arrived here in the first place. It has never been so important to market our university effectively. iTunesU was seen as a key tool for encouraging applications, with a survey showing that 60% of those students utilising the world’s largest digital catalogue of free education content were likely to use it to help them inform their decision re choice of institution. It was suggested that universities could make better use of Open Educational Resources as a method of attracting applicants, by uploading lectures and plenaries to key International sites such as YouKu, the Chinese version of YouTube.

And how could I create a summary of an ALT conference without mentioning MOOCs?! The overarching point was that no matter what happens from this point on, they have changed the face of Higher Education forever. Return on Investment has never been more important to universities; and it is this that is driving data collection and policy. Are MOOCs attracting
students to continue to study with a particular institution on a paid for basis? What has the culture of openness added to the HE community, or has it become lost within the general message and excitement? One things for sure, it has never been more important for HE leaders to collaborate and communicate on a global scale.

So many other messages from yet another stellar ALT conference… roll on ALT-C 2014!

– Tash Harden

Looking to the Cloud for Computing Resources

Paper: Cloud computing at Plymouth University

Author: Adrian Hollister, Head of Strategy and Architecture

1       Introduction

The Technology research company Gartner, lists cloud computing amongst its top 10 disruptive forces in the IT industry today: “Cloud computing is an important and disruptive long-term force in the industry, with a significant potential for impact on every aspect of IT, the business and how users access applications, information and business services. Cloud computing is shifting from an isolated project to a central IT strategy, and most organizations now assume that cloud computing, in some form, will become a reality.”[1] Moreover, estimates of global spending on cloud services show it increasing from $110 billion in 2012 to $210 billion in 2016.[2]


Clearly as the technology behind cloud computing develops and the market matures into the mainstream it is important for the University to consider the implications and how we should respond.

So what is all the fuss about?

Although the subject of a lot of hype, and somewhat shrouded in mystique, cloud computing is simply a method of commoditising certain IT services by delivering them across the Internet and structuring the pricing regime, at least to a degree, on utilisation. This is analogous to the electricity and gas industries, which for many years have delivered their supply across a common network and base their prices partly on a unit of consumption. There are a variety of units of measures that can be used for IT services (e.g. number of users, processor utilisation, storage volumes) the choice of which differing by vendor and service.

As they are able to leverage the benefits of consistency and considerable scale – often at a global level Cloud services also tend to be extremely cost efficient. This compares with traditional IT models which frequently are tailored in terms of their design and/or delivery by individual implementation.

However, by their nature cloud computing services do present issues which require consideration before their adoption. This paper discusses these issues as they pertain to the University.


2       Benefits of Cloud Computing

Apart from the lower TCO advantage, there are many additional benefits of cloud computing, the relevance of which varying depending upon an organisation’s size, scale, sector and strategic goals. However, the five most common are listed below: –

Lower capital expenditure
The ability to source IT services on-demand allows organisations to move to an investment model based on operational expenditure as it is the vendor that takes responsibility for the majority of the capital intensive IT infrastructure costs. A key commercial implication of this approach is that it enables organisations to shift their IT costs from the ‘fixed’ to the ‘variable’ which in IT capital intensive businesses can be a crucial benefit.

Greater flexibility and mobility
By virtue of their delivery across the Internet, cloud services can be accessed from virtually any location.  This is particularly important for services where mobility is highly desirable e.g Email, Office apps, websites and CRM.

Continuity of business
An associated benefit of remote working capability is that in the event of a local disaster preventing people from making it into the office (e.g. fire, flood or snow etc) they have the option of working from a different location.

Maintenance and upgrades
Because cloud-computing providers are responsible for the IT infrastructure for a large number of customers they tend to employ dedicated teams whose sole responsibility is ensuring hardware, software and networks are maintained properly across a substantial assortment of platforms. These teams will by necessity have a considerable range of skills and follow strictly controlled quality processes that any single client would find problematic to maintain from both a cost and staff retention perspective.

Improved IT security

Rather than weakening IT security (see below), there is a case for saying that cloud computing actually improves an organisation’s defences. This is because of the significant investment cloud providers put into securing their data centre infrastructure, and keeping their customers’ data safe. Vendors benefit from economies of scale – they can afford to invest in the latest solutions and preventative approaches, whereas relatively few individual organisations can to the same degree.


3       Considerations with Cloud computing

Broadly speaking there are two main issues we have to be cognizant of when considering cloud computing as an option for any of our IT services: –

  • Compliance and regulatory control
  • Security and availability of service


3.1      Compliance and regulatory control

As the market for cloud emerged in the USA most cloud providers have to date located their host data centres there as well. Whilst from a pure technology perspective this is of minor importance, the consequence of locating our data in a different jurisdiction does have implications. There are three pieces of legislation in particular that are of interest and are discussed below. However it should be noted that as the industry matures and efforts to drive cost efficiency are sought we can expect to see a shift towards Asia – which will of course stimulate its own considerations.

•           UK Data Protection Act

•           EU Safe Harbour

•           USA Patriot Act

UK Data Protection Act

UK data protection laws facilitate criminal and anti-terrorism investigations. The University is a data controller and it is vital that personal information is handled in a responsible compliant manner and that services and their integration adhere to the Data Protection Act whilst observing the Information Commissioner’s guidelines around fair use and informed consent.

Each element hosted by a cloud provider needs to be evaluated in the context of the purpose of the service. Email addresses for example, while considered by many as harmless, often contain the trifecta (name, gender, location) of personally identifying attributes that should not be disclosed unless the application specifically depends upon such information and the user has been informed in advance.

EU Safe Harbour

The eighth data protection principle under the EU’s Data Protect Act is the EU Safe Harbour.  This requires personal data not to be transferred outside the EEA unless the destination country ensures an adequate level of protection for the data subject in relation to the processing of personal data.

Traditionally, the USA was perceived not to satisfy this test and so EU data was not permitted to transfer to the USA. To overcome this problem, the EU and USA negotiated the Safe Harbour arrangement in 2000 under which USA companies can sign up to the Safe Harbour principles and undertake to process data in accordance with EU requirements. They can then receive EU personal data even though USA-based. Accordingly, the transfer of data between the EU and those companies in the USA who have signed up to the Safe Harbour (and their non-USA subsidiaries) is not interrupted. It is through this vehicle that Microsoft UK, for example, can send data to its USA parent.

The Safe Harbour is not controlled by the EU or USA government but is self-regulated by the private sector[3], subject to the oversight of the USA Dept of Commerce and sanctions of the Federal Trade Commission against companies who breach its requirements.

US Patriot Act

The Patriot Act (“the United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001”) was introduced following 9/11 and allow ‘special measures’ to be taken against information of relevance to the USA government. The effect of the legislation is that it permits the USA government or a federal judge to access any data hosted in the USA or by a USA-based company regardless of where it is hosted (whether or not the owner of the data is American).

In the context of cloud computing, if the University stores data in the cloud and some of it ends up being stored in the USA or is stored by a company that is USA owned,  (even under the EU Safe Harbour), that data might potentially become subject to the Patriot Act.

Key points of note for the University are firstly, that The University, staff or students using services provided by a USA-based company, such as Google, would be subject to the Patriot Act. Even Google UK or Microsoft UK which are wholly-owned subsidiaries of USA companies could be forced by their parent company to comply with that Act. Secondly, a UK owned/based company which provides cloud storage or services to only UK citizens residing within the United Kingdom would be wholly under UK/EU law and would be outside the Patriot Act.

The Information Commissioners Office states the following in their Good Practice Guide:[4]

“You should take into account the legislation in place in the country or territory where your chosen processor is located and any obligations this may impose on you, for example, the US PATRIOT Act.

As part of your assessment as to the adequacy of the protection available for the information being transferred you will need to consider other legislation, any risks this may pose, the likelihood of you or your processor being subject to that legislation and how you will respond if necessary.

You will need to make sure you have procedures and measures in place to deal with any requests for information you or your processor may receive under legislation in the country in which the processor is located.”

The advice from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education as articled in their journal ‘Getting to grips with Information and Communications Technology’ states:

“In practice [the Patriot Act] presents a very low risk, as the US government has to go through a rigorous process to justify access before it is granted.”[5]


3.2      Security and availability of service

Any system delivered over the Internet is of course subject to the availability of the World Wide Web.  It is important to recognise however that given the pervasive nature of the internet today a catastrophic failure of the WWW would be akin to the loss of a basic utility so perhaps a more realistic concern for the University is the potential for a localised interruption in connectivity to the internet.

Maintaining our own private IT infrastructure means that we have control over the measures deployed to ensure our environment is protected against external or internal threats. However, when consuming cloud services the responsibility for protection against these threats pass to the service provider.  Security is always seen as one of the highest risk areas for cloud service providers and most invest significant sums to ensure their services are adequately protected. After all, in a consumer model, customers can move to another cloud provider relatively easily. However, this still does not provide complete protection – large collections of information in one place becomes a highly valuable prize to those that seek to collect and profit from key information (such as email addresses, telephone numbers, bank details or IP).

A small number of smaller cloud and hosting providers have gone bankrupt in the UK.  At the beginning of 2013, the UK cloud provider 2e2 collapsed and informed it’s customers that they needed to “pay £40,000 just to keep the lights on.”[6].

These risks can however be mitigated by careful selection of the cloud provider and by confirming their continued adherence to relevant IT standards, security certifications and regulatory controls as well as ensuring cloud provision is underpinned by adequate business continuity and disaster recovery arrangements (e.g. through the independent storage of entire system configurations).


4       Examples of Cloud Provision Today

4.1      Cloud in Public Sector

Within the UK Public Sector there is a realisation that significant savings can be found when sharing services in the Cloud. Indeed as part of the Coalition Government’s ICT strategy over £22m has been spent on the UK Governments Cloud Store – a service created specifically to promote the use of cloud based services.

Moreover, central government departments are now mandated to consider public cloud first in any IT procurement and the wider public sector is strongly recommended to take the same approach.  Two recent services placed in the Cloud are shown below.


£1.3M G-Cloud deal with IBM for immigration service


£3M G-Cloud PaaS service with Skyscape

Suppliers such as Salesforce.Com have a business model based almost entirely upon cloud provision and have targeted the UK public sector as a growth market as evidenced by their recent investment in a UK based data. 


4.2      Cloud within Higher Education

Within Higher Education in the USA the move to realise the benefits of cloud computing is running at a pace. For example, California State University is an example of a University moving to a largely cloud based implementation for many key services including their data backup system. Moreover, companies such as Blackboard and Joomla (providers of Virtual Learning Environments) are now provisioning their hosted services in the Cloud.

The comparative conservative nature (in terms of IT) of UK HE has so far seen it behind the curve on adoption. However organisations such as JISC are helping UK universities improve their IT service delivery through the Cloud.  JISC committee member and Pro Vice Chancellor of Roehampton University, Chris Cobb, has commented: “With cultural barriers to shared services [via the cloud] now dissipating, the time is right to consider shared services more strategically and not just opportunistically as has been the case so far.”

We are not alone in thinking about the Cloud. Indeed many UK Universities are making some use of it, if only at a basic level such as with Google Mail and Application services and Microsoft’s Office 365.


4.3      Cloud within Plymouth University

The University already utilises cloud services, the recent Alma service along with Office365, Primo, ePayments, and Aspire are all delivered at least in part via the cloud. All are delivered across the Internet with data held in multiple countries.


Our students consume their Office, email and other services from Microsofts Office 365 Cloud based service.


Alma is our new library system that supports operations for the full spectrum of library materials.


Talis Aspire is a reading-list application that enables universities to transform resource discovery.


5       Conclusion

The combination of the benefits of cloud computing together with the increasing maturity of the marketplace represents a compelling case for further adoption. However the issues outlined above demonstrate that this is not without risk.

Fortunately these risks can be mitigated through careful and informed planning together with continued diligence of the market, vendors and service delivery levels.


6       Further Reading

[1] Gartner, Top 10 Technology Trends, 2013: Cloud Computing and Hybrid IT Drive Future IT Models, 6 February 2013

[2] Gartner, Forecast: Public Cloud Services, Worldwide, 2010-2016, 4Q12 Update

[3] U.S.-EU & U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework,

[4] ICO, Data Protection Good Practice Note Outsourcing – a guide for small and medium sized businesses, 2009

[5] p39, section 7.10 of “Getting to grips with Information and Communications Technology”, March 2013.

[6] ‘Stricken 2e2 threatens data centres: Your money or your lights’, The Register 2013,

Anti-Phishing Campaign

The Strategy & Architecture team, led by Adrian Hollister, have led a concerted counter-attack on Phishing emails, which have become prevalent in the Higher Education sector.
TIS Business Partner Natasha Harden and Account Manager Naomi Fenn developed a pilot campaign, hinged around well advertised cafe forums, eye-catching marketing materials and a social media strategy.
Working alongside Communications Officer Michael Paraskeva and fellow Business Partner Dave Fleming, the team hosted initial show and tell sessions over lunchtimes in communal staff areas, such as the cafe in John Bull Building.  The sessions provided staff and students with an opportunity to discuss their concerns and experiences, as well as enabling them to develop strategies to avoid any future security breaches.
The sessions were sured up by an eye catching, informative leaflet, disseminated to all staff within the faculty. The campaign was received so well by staff that it will be now rolled out across the university by the Communications Officer.”

Anti Phishing