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UC finetunes tech strategy to support digital masterplan

The University of Canberra is scoping a new project to determine data, integration and multicloud strategies to support its long-term digital roadmap

The University of Canberra (UC) recently finalised its first 10-year Digital Master Plan (DMP) which was co-designed with its university community and is now scoping a new project to determine data, integration and multicloud strategies in light of that plan.

Justin Mason, UC’s associate director for vendor and operations, told Computer Weekly that while the university has been putting workloads into the cloud where that was deemed the best option, the multicloud strategy is likely to include preferred suppliers for public cloud infrastructure and platform services, as well as on-premise deployments.

While the strategy has yet to be finalised, some of the considerations and broad outcomes have been drafted. When deciding where to locate particular workloads, the criteria will include business value considerations and compliance with UC’s enterprise architecture and preferred stacks.

Other factors will include the level of support offered by providers, whether the required support skills are available from internal resources, including those at Wipro, which has been providing the university with outsourced IT services since 2009, and the need to integrate with other systems.

UC uses Nutanix to manage its private cloud, enabling it to manage datacentres, clouds, and the edge as a single entity from one platform. “It definitely fits into our multicloud strategy,” Mason said, adding that Nutanix can meet any private cloud use case under the master plan, such as allocating resources to meet research excellence standards and providing self-service infrastructure to support student work.

Nutanix also provides a mechanism for migrating workloads between clouds, so UC can remain cloud-agnostic and pick the most suitable provider for any given project. The university currently uses Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

An earlier cloud framework was based on the ‘best fit’ principle that workloads should run where it makes the most sense. “Some workloads make more sense on public cloud,” Mason said, while others, especially those that run continuously, are better placed on-premise.

But the increasing feature parity between major public clouds means it’s possible to select a preferred provider, which Mason thinks will likely happen. Focusing on one public cloud for most purposes would reduce the range of skills required while simplifying management and improving security.

“There will be exceptions,” he said, such as when collaborating with other institutions, and the university has already experienced the ease of moving workloads between clouds with Nutanix.

Integration is regarded as such an important issue that it requires a specific strategy to support the master plan. UC’s current primary integration platform is Boomi, but as additional products are used in some situations, the market is being revisited in the hope of finding a single platform that meets the institution’s requirements. That said, Mason explained, it is too early to tell whether one platform will be used exclusively, or if a “multi-integration” approach will be adopted instead, analogous to the multicloud strategy.

As part of the integration strategy, proposed applications and platforms will be vetted to determine whether they provide proper application programming interface (API) support, as well as support for Boomi or whatever integration platform is adopted.

Furthermore, sovereignty is taken seriously at UC – any new system goes through a thorough and vigorous review process that takes data sovereignty into account and may result in providers being asked to make changes to meet the university’s requirements, such as improved isolation from other systems. And while there is a general preference for keeping data onshore, there are cases where that can make or break a proposal.

The DMP provides a long-term digital roadmap of initiatives and priorities for the university, Mason observed, and various specific activities are planned for the first three years to stabilise the university’s foundations, delivered through a flexible funding envelope.

These include moving a research system to public cloud, a digital skills uplift programme for students and staff, deployment of an enterprise risk management platform, and user experience improvements to various user-facing services, especially those aimed at students.

There are also a number of “stabilisation initiatives” addressing the curriculum management system, research performance monitoring, and the integration of various learning tools, among others, to support meeting the immediate needs of the university community.

The initiatives in the first three funded years of the plan will provide a firm foundation for the improvements foreshadowed for year four and later under the DMP, and to support a wide range of goals including academic and research excellence, digital culture, skills and well-being, technology modernisation, governance transformation, service excellence and personalised digital experience.

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