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Case Study

Softcat’s Cisco playbook helps Manchester Metropolitan University make all the right connections

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Founded in 1824 and originally known as the Manchester Mechanics Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) is based in the heart of the city. Home to 38,000 students, it has one of the largest student populations in Europe. More than 5,000 staff deliver teaching in four faculties based on two main campuses. Manchester Metropolitan University is one of the most extensive higher education centres in Europe with 38,000 students and more than 1,000 undergraduate, postgraduate and professional courses.

The University educates and trains large numbers of legal and business professionals, scientists, engineers, teachers, health workers and creative professionals.

Manchester Metropolitan achieved the silver award in the Teaching Excellence Framework, has 85% of research impact rated world-leading and internationally excellent as judged in the REF, and is one of the UK’s greenest universities as ranked by the People and Planet sustainability league tables. The multi-lingual poetry project, Mother Tongue Other Tongue, was recognised with a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2019, while the Business School is part of an elite group of schools worldwide that holds the triple crown international benchmark of excellence.

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The Challenge

Maintaining a high functioning and secure network is critical to Manchester Metropolitan’s operations. To this end, the IT team carried out an annual review of its Cisco network infrastructure, examining support contracts and SLAs and compiling an inventory of assets. The exercise was becoming increasingly onerous and placing a strain on the IT support resources at Manchester Met. Ultimately, that review process could be sub optimal, leading to an incomplete understanding of the network landscape, which in turn, could result in Manchester Met overpaying for both the technology and associated support services it needed.

With the University growing, support costs were increasing, yet the IT team were unsure if the cost of ongoing support with its existing SLAs was justified and necessary. With end-of-life and legacy support issues impacting its current network provision, reducing the cost and time spent maintaining the network became critical. Manchester Met needed to explore alternative solutions, ideally, sourcing a long-term Cisco network strategy partner with deep sectoral knowledge. Following a tender process, Softcat came on board.

Critical success factors

  • Understand cost implications of existing SLAs and support provision
  • Reduce the cost and time spent maintaining network infrastructure
  • Source a long-term network strategy partner

The Solution

“We’ve got a strong, productive relationship with Softcat that’s been built up over years,” said Rob Collins, Head of Core Infrastructure Services at Manchester Met. “It’s been involved in multiple projects, including replacing firewalls, switches, routers and wireless design / upgrade / expansion. It ensures it has a comprehensive understanding of our specific technology needs and ongoing IT strategy.

“Softcat’s specialists employ a systematic ‘Discover, Design and Support / Operate’ approach to this type of engagement,” said Thomas Rowley, Proposition Owner / Ent NetSec Consultant at Softcat. “During the discovery element we can properly evaluate existing provision, understand the forward-looking strategy and use that intelligence to design a suitable architecture. Having worked with Manchester Met for a number of years, we knew what was in place, which helped ensure our proposed solution took into context Manchester Met existing provision and what was needed to ensure operational improvements going forward.”

Rob added: “Once Softcat had completed the discovery phase it set up a workshop to discuss the findings and make recommendations to our network team.”.

“The workshop illustrated how the analysis would inform the design of a bespoke professional services and support contract with robust SLAs based on network infrastructure lifespan and associated risk to the organisation. It also highlighted, using data output from a Cisco Smart Collector, where network upgrades for kit approaching end-of-life would be needed as part of a comprehensive roadmap indicating upgrade options and associated benefits.”

Using this data enabled Softcat’s security and support specialists to design a holistic solution capable of achieving best value from its network architecture. The solution included:

  • Proof of concept for a Cisco Software Defined Access – DNA
  • NAC – ISE licensing plus hardware
  • Network hardware and software provision for new buildings
  • Access, distribution, and core switching refresh
  • Phased planning, design, and deployment approach to wireless refresh – upgrading to WiFi6
  • Cisco Enterprise Agreement telephony
  • Lifecycle service assessment, covering hardware and software support services

“Softcat’s specialist advice and knowledge played a critical role in our decision,” said Rob. “It meant we could implement changes with full confidence and secure a committed network partner delivering robust professional and support services that we can rely on moving forward. It enabled us to roll renewals, essential maintenance and purchasing into a single provision. Softcat provided high-level consultancy free of charge. It’s knowledge of how to effectively leverage purchasing frameworks eliminated much of the complexity involved and all of the little extras it brought to the engagement constituted a real value add for the University.”

Solution highlights

  • Discover, Design and Support/Operate approach to understand specific client needs
  • Workshops held to discuss findings and define future network strategy
  • Ongoing professional and support services secured
  • Significant ‘value add’ underpinned by sectoral and purchasing framework knowledge

The Benefits

Manchester Met has secured a 4-year agreement underpinned by a comprehensive defined network policy capable of supporting its forward-looking strategy. Just as importantly, however, it has secured a network partner fully committed to delivering added value throughout the life of the agreement.

“Softcat’s network specialists provided significant technical and sectoral expertise at the start of the engagement and beyond,” said Rob. “their Cisco playbook is indicative of its in-house investment in understanding the technologies, benefits that can be accrued and the lifecycles associated with them. Softcat’s strong relationship with Cisco was also influential. It’s helped to establish a triparty relationship that’s open, transparent and focused on achieving our business goals.

“As the University expands, we’re confident that the solution will scale to match increasing demand and that Softcat will be there to support us all the way in providing an optimal student experience. Providing high-quality support seems just as important to Softcat as it is to us. It will often go above and beyond SLAs and Softcat knows when to escalate support requests to respond to our critical needs.

“We’ve also been invited to participate in HE sector-focused events that provide access to highly valuable intelligence and help us gain best value from our investment. From day one, Softcat got the right people, with the right expertise around the table to understand our requirements and deliver what we needed. It was effectively high-level consultancy delivered outside of the traditional, paid-for professional services arena. It’s a continuous value add for Manchester Met and I can contact any one of a number of Softcat specialists to discuss ideas or issues. Knowing that I have significant sectoral and technical knowledge within easy reach helps us rapidly solve issues and gives us peace of mind.”

Benefits at a glance

  • 4-year agreement based on bespoke defined network policy
  • High-level technical advice underpinned by dedicated Cisco Playbook
  • Scalable solution delivering optimal connectivity and enhanced student experience

Why Softcat?

“For as long as we’ve worked with Softcat, it’s delivered a consistent service,” said Rob. “Unlike other providers, with Softcat it’s much more than just a transactional relationship – it’s a partnership characterised by a deep knowledge of our current situation, our forward-looking strategy and wider trends within the HE sector. Softcat understands what we do, what we want to do and what technologies we can use to enable us to do more.”