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Established in 2005 and one of the few universities to be ranked Gold in the first Teaching Excellence Framework, the University of Northampton (UON) delivers 21st Century teaching from a technologically integrated campus. Just over 2,000 staff provide a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses for almost 14,000 students.
Designated a ‘Changemaker Campus’ in 2012, it has established a growing reputation for achieving a positive social impact and won multiple awards. The opening of its new £330 million Waterside campus in 2018 reflects its ambition to be a university that is “designed to reflect the way you actually learn rather than the way you are expected to learn.”
“Successfully managing IT budgets is always challenging, it’s a task that never really goes away,” said Tom Matthews, IT Security Engineer, University of Northampton. “We continually monitor expenditure to ensure we’re gaining best value from our investments and maintain the technologies needed to effectively respond to constantly evolving ways of learning.
“We were running an on-premise Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution that was due for renewal. We contacted Tyler Furne, Higher Education Client Manager at Softcat, who we’ve worked with over recent years, and asked him to investigate what would be the best value option for extending the existing agreement. We knew we could migrate to a cloud-based, SaaS version of the solution but wanted to discover if it would be economically prudent to do so.”
Tyler Furne takes up the story. “We engaged one of Softcat’s Public Sector Networking and Security Specialists to ‘sense check’ the financial implications of migrating to a cloud solution. His extensive knowledge of both the sector and available technologies meant he could provide the critical insight UON needed to make the right choice.”
Following a thorough review of UON’s specific requirements, Softcat’s in-depth research revealed that migrating to the cloud-based version would be prohibitively expensive and recommended continuing with the current, on-premise provision.
“Softcat really put the effort in to ensure their analysis delivered the information we needed said Tom. “Ultimately, we decided to stick with what we had, but the detail and quality of Softcat’s groundwork highlighted just how valuable such input can be, so we asked Softcat to evaluate our current on-premise Vulnerability Scanning capabilities and recommend a suitable and scalable replacement.”
Critical Success Factors
· Provide analysis for cost implications of agreement renewal
· Thorough marketplace / vendor assessment
· Recommend suitable Vulnerability Scanning solution
Softcat investigated potential solutions from four highly regarded vendors. Throughout the analysis, the focus was ensuring the proposed solution would deliver on both functionality and cost. Softcat’s extensive knowledge of both the marketplace and the specific needs of Higher Education users ensured its recommendations would be both fit for purpose and economically viable. “Although I had a very clear idea of what technologies we needed to improve our Vulnerability Scanning capabilities, Softcat’s work eliminated a lot of the time we would have spent researching individual products ourselves,” said Tom. “It gave us great confidence that whatever was recommended would fulfil our specific needs.”
“Our research illustrated that the most commercially attractive and performative solution available within UON’s budget was the F-Secure Radar Vulnerability Management Platform. As a cloud-based solution it would improve overall functionality and reduce the time and IT resources demanded by the existing on-premise solution. We negotiated a three-year deal, paid annually, with the vendor on UON’s behalf.” said Tyler.
“While our existing solution could identify network vulnerabilities, it really didn’t provide any functionality to minimise identified risks or scale to the capacity we needed,” said Tom. “F-Secure Radar has automated features and an easy-to-understand dashboard designed to make managing risks much simpler, as well as being able to scale to match increased demand. Before we’d even agreed the deal, an F-Secure Account Manager delivered two demos to help us understand its capabilities. We could also directly compare the solution with alternative providers to help us make an informed choice.
“The second demo focused on how F-Secure’s solution would seamlessly integrate with our existing infrastructure and software estate. F-Secure also offered two days’ worth of free on-site training for our IT team and the chance to trial the solution before making a final choice. In the end, it was an easy decision to make. We implemented the F-Secure Radar solution in house, with minimal disruption, in a couple of hours.”
· Comprehensive solution evaluation from multiple vendors
· Identification of highly functional, within budget solution
· Seamless, in-house implementation and free on-site training
UON can now rapidly identify vulnerabilities across the entire network, but more crucially, has gained an enhanced capacity to quickly prioritise and respond effectively to identified threats. The solution integrates much more successfully with the existing IT estate and enables proactive interventions to remediate any issues detected.
Unlike its previous solution, F-Secure Radar has the capacity to scan web apps, as well as enabling security scaping to both boost protection and improve the visibility of network activity. It delivers granular information that can be easily interpreted to fine tune system performance and delivers a range of automated tasks that minimise much of the hands-on work associated with the old solution.
The solution’s in-built ticketing system will help to improve workflows. It enables IT team members to be assigned individual tasks, with associated deadlines, which will help them manage workloads more successfully and stay up to speed with what needs to be done.
“Overall, the F-Secure Radar solution delivers enhanced capabilities across the board,” according to Tom. “It’s improving helpdesk request responses, scans APIs, enhances system management and is a superb product for facilitating interconnectivity. It’s saving a lot of time and the automated features are massively reducing the potential for human error.
“We’re really confident we made the right choice. F-Secure is a well-respected provider within our sector and in the long term we can see opportunities for further consolidation on the strength of this deal. The financing agreement Softcat helped to negotiate on our behalf was a major benefit, I have to say. It enabled UON to guarantee expenditure for the next three-years, stay comfortably within its budget and avoid compromising on the quality of the solution.”
Benefits at a glance
· Rapid, accurate identification of security issues
· F-Secure Radar Cloud-based management solution, offering enhanced capacity to effectively deal with network vulnerabilities
· Time-saving solution helps minimise human errors
“The ability to aggregate industry knowledge, cut out the marketing noise and get to the nub of the issue is what sets Softcat apart – and its capacity to arrange favourable financing is hugely helpful too,” said Tom. “Their advice is often invaluable, as they understand who else is using what within the higher education sector and whether they are having a good experience.
“We first got involved with Softcat through a Microsoft Licensing deal a few years ago and ever since it’s been like a virtual extension of the in-house team. Account managers are always on hand, they’re extremely responsive and whatever questions we throw at them, we receive timely and useful feedback.
“It’s more like a partnership than a traditional vendor / client relationship. We’re always up front about what we need. Softcat takes that information, interrogates the marketplace and delivers solutions that are not just great value, but exactly what the organisation needs.”