Challenge


Upgrade network to deliver stable, equitable performance to users in diverse locations, with the greatest flexibility and visibility to the University.

Solution


A partnership with Spark, incorporating Cloud Managed Network with VMware Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN).

Result


A scalable, agile solution that enhances user experience and paves the way for new modes of learning - while giving flexibility, visibility and control to the IT team.

Enriching learning with a digital foundation

Only optimised and resilient network performance makes world-class physical and digital spaces, responsive and accessible services, and open and collaborative modes of learning possible. This benchmark has driven The University of Auckland to make a recent network upgrade to Spark Managed Network and VMWare’s SD-Wan, alongside Cloud and SaaS adoption as part of a wider digital transformation journey.

"The nature of education is changing. We are focused on scalable, agile solutions that deliver resilience, flexibility and control, while allowing us to forge the future of learning,” says Sanit Kumar, Infrastructure Services Portfolio Manager (ISPM) – Cloud, Network & Datacentre Services. 

Diverse localities – equitable performance

The University has a large footprint well beyond Auckland city. Campuses are spread across the North Island from Goldie Estate Winery on Waiheke Island, to a School of Education in Whangarei and linked with major hospital campuses in the upper North Island, where it manages a practicum placement of medical students in conjunction with district health boards. 

“The vision is for equitable, reliable and flexible network performance – irrespective of location. We’ve identified an optimal vehicle for achieving this is SD-Wan in partnership with Spark,” says Kumar. At the time of publication, his team were most of the way through a pilot upgrade program.

Helping the Faculty of Medical and Health Science align its strategic needs with digital capability is the domain of Business Relationship Manager, Warren Grant. “We currently have 900 medical students out in the field at hospitals. Reliable access to digital resources to support their clinical development is vital. Whether it’s a link to an online tool to help them make an informed diagnosis, or the quick download of a meaty medical journal we want users to benefit from reliable, direct network access to the digital resources they need to be constantly evolving. A stable, performant network is also crucial to researchers, teaching staff and other stakeholders."

Enhanced flexibility and control

“Enhancing stakeholder experiences is at the heart of what we set out to do. The previous solution we are migrating from, had hard limits on bandwidth. To increase it was not instantaneous and it had financial implications that took time to get approvals for. We needed to have the ability to increase (and decrease) bandwidth in response to user needs Now, we’re in control and this is already proving highly beneficial,” says Kumar.

A great example of this flexibility is the student examination process. Students use the University’s internet-based Student Management Application to complete exams. With Spark Cloud Managed Network the IT team can prioritise traffic for examinees with role-based control. 

Kumar explains, “The needs of every site are different and changeable. Students on campus or remote need priortised access to the Campus application, but at our book bindery site for instance, we might prioritise software access to keep pace with that site’s business needs.”

Latency was a previous issue, too. Data doesn’t have to travel to a data centre and back with the SD-Wan solution; that makes access much quicker from local sites.

Visibility and nimbleness

The University can see traffic, predict needs and perform troubleshooting with VeloCloud Orchestrator and its multi-site dashboarding. Kumar says, “Enhanced visibility means we can anticipate the needs of certain user groups and hone user experience. In the future we will be able to delegate some control to local sites so they can be even more nimble. They know their local needs and they can prioritise their traffic accordingly."

The future of enriched learning

Covid-19 brought a future-focused silver lining of sorts to the University. Warren Grant explains, “The need for remote-learning and the ongoing changing distribution of student populations has highlighted the exciting potential for rich, interactive content and blended learning models”.

If you can’t physically put medical students into a clinical laboratory for practical learning, you have to come up with virtual ways to recreate those experiences. Thanks to a robust and reliable network, Grant and his team can take applications which previously were only used on campus to expand their teaching footprint and enrich practicum placement.

“We created emulation software to recreate the experience of looking at a slide under a microscope over the internet. Now this virtual lab experience is available to the student out on placement, too”. 

“Indeed, this network capability enables us to better serve our remote sites from behind the scenes, but more importantly it gives us the scope to improve our pedagogy. That’s really exciting. From the cardiac monitoring software that emulates patient response to stimuli, to the ability to rethink one dimensional articles and bring them to life with rich, interactive content - we can improve learning outcomes and transform the way we teach”.

A future-proof partnership 

Kumar says, “As we navigate 5G, WiFi 6 and significant shifts in the digital and learning landscape we know we’re in safe hands with Spark and VMWare. At a leadership level we share our KPI’s and deliverables openly, knowing we can rely on them to help us strategise and deliver the best user experiences”.