University of Alberta: First IT services transitioned across the university

Through the University of Alberta for Tomorrow (UAT) initiative, the IT stream aims to establish a service-oriented reorganization of IT services that includes exceptional systems support, the supply of digital technology and services across the university, and optimization of resources to support the university’s core mission of teaching, learning, and research. The IT stream— in collaboration with Information Services and Technology (IST) and faculties/units— is working diligently to consolidate all IT services across the university. With work beginning in early spring 2021, the IT stream is on track to complete the transition of the first university-wide IT services: networks, data centres, and cyber security, by early October. As centralized services in the new operating model, they will be fully managed and operated by IST.

As foundational services, networks, data centers, and cyber security represent key components of the IT service catalogue. These services are critical to the underlying operations of the entire university and are the backbone of how we work. Without them, we cannot connect to the Internet, our data isn’t safely stored for retrieval, and our information isn’t protected.

Transitioning these services began in mid-March with the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport and Recreation kicking-off the transition sequence. In total, networks, data centres and cyber security services for all faculties and units will be fully transitioned into IST by early October. While some faculties/units had parts of these services previously consolidated into IST, a review was still completed to ensure everything was transitioned properly and to its full extent.

Overall, faculties and units described the transition of networks, data centres, and cyber security systems as a positive and beneficial experience. The transition also sets the university up for some major future enhancements, including:

Improving the university’s security posture, providing better protection against threats,
Reducing complexity and duplication, helping us save money and increasing efficiencies, and
Enhancing visibility by providing the university with a more holistic view of services, allowing for a full inventory of systems and platforms and enabling us to take advantage of new capabilities.
Improving the university’s security posture: Joining all three services under one roof enables IST to monitor and scan for threats using the university’s Vulnerability Management Service. Now, with the ability to comprehensively scan all university IP addresses, servers, and networks, IST can better manage risks and foresee potential threats. This centralization also puts the university in the position to enhance network threat monitoring even further in the future, with new technologies like AI monitoring. IST’s security team has also been bolstered through transitions with the recent addition of two faculty-specific IT security analysts, who bring their expertise and knowledge to the team.

Reducing complexity and duplication: This transition provided IST the opportunity to reduce duplication in faculties/units—a key goal of administrative restructuring. Rather than several different units across the university all managing their own network, data centre, and security services (including upkeep, maintenance, support, and licensing), those services now reside under one centralized roof, creating significant value. IST will be able to reduce complexities, increase efficiencies and effectiveness, and bring about some cost savings in group licensing.

Enhancing visibility: With IST now having the whole picture of these services across the university, network communication and flows are more efficient and the possibility of risk has decreased. Instead of previously siloed data centres, separate networks, and more localized security infrastructure and services, centralization has increased visibility and reduced blindspots. External service providers and contractors will also find it easier to complete work on the university’s IT infrastructure and services. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers is currently conducting a network audit which is now simplified with one point of contact, rather than having to connect with every faculty and unit for an individual assessment.

As transitions continue, IST is also increasing their support staff to help manage these newly-centralized services. IST has hired 33 people to help manage the new central work, including 21 internal hires from the faculties to support an increasing number of networks, data centres, software licences, and more. Here are just a few numbers to demonstrate the scope before and after transitioning these services:

Before After
IST was responsible for 1,150 physical and virtual servers
With the onboarding of approximately 1,200 more, IST will now manage ~2,350 servers.
IST’s security team was responsible for the daily scanning of 2,000 servers for vulnerabilities
At the end of July, they scanned nearly 3,600 servers
Four vulnerability management platforms were used across the university
Consolidating will bring that down to a single platform, enhancing security through a single interface, which also results in approximately $40,000 in annual savings
In addition to almost finalizing the service transitions for networks, data centers, and cyber security, the IT stream has transitioned all IT services for:

Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport and Recreation
Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences
Office of the Dean of Students
Office of the Registrar
Human Resources, Health, Safety & Environment
Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research
The IT stream will continue to transition the remaining IT services from faculties/units into IST, including desktop and server support, the service desk, applications, labs and classrooms and more, with completion scheduled for February 2022.

Through transitioning and the benefits that come with it, IST is well positioned to serve the needs of academic and administrative restructuring, and most importantly, the teaching, learning, and research mission of the university today, and into the future.

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