A long-established independent day school based in Hampstead in North London, University College School (UCS), was founded in 1830 by University College London. It’s part of the Eton Group of Schools and provides high-quality education for pupils ranging from 4 to 18 years. Since its inception, UCS has stuck faithfully to its founders’ academic principals; providing an environment where education is stimulating, enriching, informative and focused on the needs of individual pupils.
UCS selects pupils from all backgrounds and views a sense of community and tolerance as an essential educational outcome. It strives to provide the widest range of opportunities, placing equal value on learning with, not just from, others and encouraging self-discovery and self-expression alongside academic achievement.
- Long-established independent day school
- Member of the Eton Group of Schools
- Focus on individual pupil needs and sense of community
Recent years have seen an exponential rise in cyber-attacks, with the education sector being increasingly targeted. Like every school, UCS holds a wealth of sensitive data relating to pupils, parents and staff and needs access to technologies that will enable it to effectively counter a range of threats, including data breaches and ransomware attacks.
“For most schools, cybersecurity is an entity in and of itself,” explains Nik Cragg, UCS Head of IT. “With limited budgets and comparatively small IT teams, it’s critical that schools have access to up-to-date security technologies to provide cost-effective and robust security that can be managed with minimal resources. This has become even more pressing with the rise in remote working brought on by the global pandemic. We recently took the decision to source enhanced security protection. However, the wide range of potential vendors meant we ran the risk of ‘vendor sprawl’, which would make it more difficult to manage from a long-term perspective.
“What we really needed was some vendor agnostic advice to help us make the right decision on technology purchases. Ideally, we wanted a security solution from a single vendor that would be future-ready, easy to manage and capable of delivering the highest levels of security to protect our data, network and cloud IT infrastructure.”
Critical success factors
- Formulate an effective response to burgeoning cyber threats
- Investigate enhanced security solutions
- Secure an easy-to-manage, single vendor solution
Over several years, Softcat has provided not just technology solutions, but also, strategic advice and guidance based on its sectoral experience. Softcat recently delivered a full Aruba networking refresh, involving upgrading the UCS wireless, core, access and edge switching technologies. The discovery work involved in multiple engagements with UCS and other education providers enables Softcat to provide valuable and comprehensive insight to the IT requirements of the wider sector.
Nik is a member of the 150-strong Schools Innovative Leadership Committee (SILC) steering group. SILC strives to analyse issues and create solutions to the multiple challenges faced within the sector. Softcat provides sectoral intelligence and feedback, including best practice examples of technology use and sustainability strategies to support this work. Nik places great value on this interaction, understanding how it builds trust in any committee recommendations for IT solutions.
“Softcat recommended a completely new security framework provided by SonicWall, a leading provider of next-generation firewalls and cybersecurity solutions,” said Nik. “With the sensitive details of over 4,000 staff, students and parents held on school systems, ensuring the highest level of protection is critical to both the smooth operation of our activities and our professional reputation. We’ve experienced a significant increase in remote access to the school’s systems brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s why we were particularly keen to enhance the security of the growing number of managed end points. We also wanted to achieve greater visibility of activities and enhance the performance of the wide variety of collaborative Software as a Service (SaaS) applications and platforms leveraged by the school.
“The SonicWall solution implementation was carried out remotely in less than an hour, with specialists from both Softcat and SonicWall on hand to assist with configuration to ensure robust protection. And the assistance didn’t end there. Since the implementation we’ve maintained continual contact with both Softcat and SonicWall to ensure we’re kept up to speed with the evolving threat landscape and can put in place effective protections to counter any emerging threats.”
- Comprehensive sectoral intelligence leveraged to ensure a fit-for-purpose solution
- Close, ongoing collaboration to ensure best value and robust protection
- Single vendor solution to minimise management complexity: 2 X SonicWall NSa 6650 (HA Pair), SonicWall Capture Client, SonicWall Cloud App Security
“Without doubt, the major benefit is the simple fact that we can do what we need to do more securely and efficiently than before,” said Nik. “SonicWall gives us much deeper capabilities when it comes to responding to evolving cyber threats. Although many of the collaborative tools we use, such as SharePoint, O365 and Google apps, have in-built security features, there remain security vulnerabilities that cyber-attacks can exploit.
“SonicWall provides the capacity to deliver cloud security through a multi-engine sandbox environment. This enables the solution to detect threats, using Real-Time Deep Memory Inspection (RTDMI) embedded and executed in memory, by interrogating risks other security solutions are unable to detect. It ensures that we can effectively scan word documents, emails and other communications in the system to deliver enhanced protection against threats that traditional anti-virus solutions may struggle to eliminate. The solution enables us to leverage both artificial intelligence (AI) and direct experience to rectify any potential threats and be better prepared for any emerging issues.”
In choosing a single vendor approach, UCS has gained efficiencies and optimised security across its operations. Through minimising the training required to ensure a robust security posture, streamlining resource use and enhancing interoperability, UCS is able to provide best in breed protection while reducing ongoing costs. “SonicWall’s capacity to counter existing threats and, through continual iterations, effectively respond to the evolving threat landscape, is vitally important,” said Nik. “The solution’s automated functions eliminate much of the input previously required from the IT team. Just as importantly, however, it provides us with clear intelligence to better understand the threats we are facing and formulate an effective response. It’s helped secure our reputation as an organisation that takes our duty of care seriously and ensure that everyone accessing school systems can innovate and collaborate securely, efficiently and with confidence.”
Benefits at a glance
- Robust next-generation threat protection
- Enhanced visibility, control and security of cloud apps
- IT team time and resource savings
“In the eight or so years I’ve worked with Softcat, it’s become clear that its focus is on relationships, not box shifting,” said Nik. “I’ve always felt a valued customer, despite Softcat’s considerable growth in recent years. It’s very keen on encouraging long-term collaboration and knowledge sharing, rather than simply selling.
Softcat’s vendor agnostic approach ensures that when it recommends a solution, it’s doing so because it’s the right solution to your specific challenge. The leverage it has with multiple vendors means that if I need to contact a vendor directly for help or advice, Softcat will make it happen. Most importantly, however, its specialists understand what we do, how the wider sector operates and, critically, how to secure a great deal.”