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For Colleges and Universities, It’s Time to Accelerate the Pace of Digital Transformation

Most colleges and universities were on the journey to digital transformation heading into 2020. There were many reasons, including the need to support increased remote learning; to embrace cloud agility, scale and economics, particularly in the face of more austere budgets; and to keep pace with the changing requirements of constituents, whether teachers, students, administrators, researchers or even their own IT departments.

Then, as 2020 unfolded, all of these trends accelerated. Remote learning, and accompanying security and scale, became a necessity. Other digital transformation imperatives intensified as well: the move to hybrid cloud, the focus on cybersecurity, and the need for even higher levels of availability and business continuity.

In addition, the acceleration of digital transformation shone a brighter spotlight on the need to simplify and automate IT to take pressure off overwhelmed administrators and cybersecurity personnel—while also making it easier to enable secure access to modern tools such as containers, microservices and Kubernetes orchestration.

For IT leaders and others across the higher education ecosystem, these accelerated changes will likely be permanent requirements for colleges and universities, not only through 2021 but for the foreseeable future. Once digital transformation takes root and users and IT reap the benefits, there is no going back to the way things were before.

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Higher education success stories
Fortunately, as decision-makers in higher education look to accelerate the pace of digital transformation, there are role models to follow. Here are examples of three institutions that have already taken advantage of modern technologies to help drive digital transformation to benefit students, teachers, administrators and IT teams.

University of Pisa: With nearly 50,000 students and more than 3,000 faculty and staff, the University of Pisa needed a reliable, high-performance infrastructure to keep pace with growing demands for robust, responsive information access, remote learning and the latest research tools and capabilities. Use cases included all 20 university departments, focused on technologies such as artificial intelligence for large-scale simulations in research as well as block storage of scientific computing applications for medical and biological research. To meet these diverse needs, the university turned to Dell EMC PowerMax, Dell EMC PowerStore, Dell EMC PowerScale and VMware vSphere. “We chose PowerMax because it was the first NVMe platform for enterprise storage,” says Maurizio Davini, chief technology officer at the university. “We rely on PowerMax for mission-critical applications such as administrative functions, teaching and labs—because if these workloads stop, we’re closed.” With the new solutions the university has achieved the following results:

  • Five times faster data processing to meet faculty, staff and student needs.
  • 80% better performance on a wide variety of essential applications.
  • No downtime or data loss, ensuring essential services always remain available.
  • Support for leading-edge teaching and research

Xavier University: For Xavier, IT modernization focused on data protection, backup, business continuity and reducing complexity. “Protecting data at Xavier is so crucial because our customers are our students,” says Fred Hedrington II, former assistant director of infrastructure technology and support at Xavier. “Student records, student retention rates—all of these things matter, so we need to be able to not only protect the data but to be able to use it for extended periods of time.” The university modernized data protection and backup with Dell EMC Data Protection Software. Backups of 20 TB now complete in a single evening compared with two or three days with the former solution. With deduplication, the solution uses less capacity and management has been simplified so it can be handled by a single admin. Since installing the new solution, Hedrington says Xavier has been able to “realize the importance of being able to protect that data quickly but, more importantly, restore it in the midst of an emergency.”

Aalto University: Based in Helsinki, Aalto University has 12,000 students and 4,000 personnel, making it Finland’s second largest higher education institution. A major part of the university’s modernization effort was to virtualize expensive and powerful desktop computers so students could log on at any time and from any device to applications for research or coursework. “We wanted to free students from the constraints of IT labs and make our hardware and software available anywhere,” says Hannes Päivänsalo, head of IT operations at Aalto University. “By doing so, we predicted we could redirect the cost of running our IT labs into new strategic ventures.” The university chose a virtual desktop infrastructure solution based on Dell EMC VxRail and VMware Horizon. The investment proved invaluable when students began working from home. “Students could run demanding applications even on basic laptops because the desktops were virtualized and running on VxRail,” says Päivänsalo.

Taking the next step
Colleges and universities must keep pace with the ever-evolving digital needs of their constituents. This means solutions that leverage modern technologies to deliver the performance, agility, business continuity, security and data protection requirements of today’s rapidly changing higher education environments. To learn more about how to advance and accelerate digital transformation at your institution, please visit Dell Technologies.

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