Lancaster University is an award-winning university ranked in the top ten in three UK League tables. It has a growing international reputation, a fact recognised by its high rating in the QS World Rankings and offers more than 280 undergraduate degree programmes, alongside a wide range of postgraduate courses.
One of the few UK universities to use a collegiate system, around 12,000 UK and International students have access to high-quality, innovative teaching and facilities through its nine individual colleges. In 2017, Lancaster University achieved the highest possible score - Gold - in the UK Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). More recently, it was named International University of the Year 2020 in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide.
Lancaster University’s existing End Point Security solution had been in place for a number of years. Matt Storey, the university’s Systems Technical Coordinator, wanted to explore alternative solutions that could enhance functionality and performance. “We were curious about advances in End Point Security and Anti-Virus solutions. We approached Softcat, one of our longstanding technology providers, to investigate the marketplace and discover if alternative providers could deliver a better solution within the budget available.”
“We have worked with Lancaster University for more than a decade,” said Thomas Rowley, Public Sector Network and Security Consultant from Softcat, “and we’ve gained a deep understanding of its specific technologies and needs. This helped inform our search and we were able to quickly identify suitable solutions.”
“Softcat’s response was superb,” said Matt. “We had tight timelines and needed to quickly identify potential solutions, and more importantly, what would be best for us. Softcat’s knowledge of our specific requirements and the Higher Education marketplace helped them quickly narrow down the search to a couple of providers. They highlighted what has worked well in similar universities, and critically, ensured the proposed solutions would be suitable for our diverse hardware and operating system estate.”
Softcat organised workshops where individual vendors live demoed their products’ capabilities. It meant Lancaster University could accurately assess each vendor’s offerings and Softcat was able to illustrate where such solutions had been successfully deployed in
the past. “The workshops helped us gain a really clear picture of both vendors’ strengths and weaknesses. We chose the Sophos Intercept X for Server and Sophos Central Intercept X Endpoint security solutions, as they provided the value for money and functionality we needed,” said Matt.
Critical Success Factors
- Asses specific client requirements
- Identify highly functional Endpoint Security solution
- Demonstrate suitability for mixed device estate
The workshops illustrated how the Sophos solution delivered the best capacity for managing and securing Lancaster University’s diverse IT estate, including Windows 10, Mac OS and Linux operating systems. “Sophos came out top in all of the areas we examined during the workshops,” said Matt. “Once we’d made our decision, a productive tri-party relationship was quickly established between ourselves, Softcat and Sophos. That collaboration gave us confidence that we had not only sourced the right product, but also gained access to an extensive knowledge community of support and information to help squeeze maximum value out of the solution.”
The solution was implemented by the in-house IT team with support from both Sophos and Softcat specialist technical teams. Keen to avoid any disruption to ongoing business activities, the migration was completed without any disruption to core systems or suspension of services.
“The technical implementation and migration of services ran smoothly, with Softcat and Sophos helping to ensure the solution’s configuration exactly matched our specific needs. We managed to migrate data from around 1,000 servers, alongside more than 6,000 users, in a single month. Migrating remote users – which can be problematic when dealing with individual devices – ran smoothly too. We were able to combine and deploy multiple upgrades that could be initiated when it was most convenient for the users themselves to do it – even if it was outside of normal working hours.
“Throughout the implementation, the support provided by Sophos and Softcat was superb. They couldn’t have been more helpful, quickly identified what would and wouldn’t work and backed up those findings with hard evidence. All in all, both teams were great to work with and responded quickly to any queries or support requests,” said Matt.
- Workshops to demonstrate solution capabilities
- Extensive technical support during migration to new solution
- Minimal downtime and disruption to ongoing services
- Sophos Intercept X for Server and Sophos Central Intercept X Endpoint security
Softcat’s position within the SUPC Software Licence Resellers Agreement simplifies the procurement process for Higher Education providers. It helps ensure compliant procurement procedures, is underpinned by robust KPI-based performance management, and ensures best value for money through improved terms and conditions over the life of the framework.
“The fact that we can buy through the framework with Softcat is important,” said Matt, “but the vendor agnostic approach it takes to assessing the functionality of individual solutions, and how they can best support our ongoing business is hugely valuable. Softcat challenges the assumptions, understands the sectoral requirements, and works to find the right solution for our ways of working and budget.
“Any transition of this size is going to be hard work and one of the joys of working with the Sophos team was its clear advice. It provided easy-to-understand guidance about how existing resources could be migrated, and just as importantly, how it could be achieved with the minimum of fuss. We also knew that the mix of operating systems in our device estate could have caused issues, yet the Sophos team managed all of the mixed environment requirements simply and quickly.”
John Couzins, IT Security Manager for Lancaster University, also commented on the effectiveness of the what is now in place. “The Sophos Intercept X solution provides a wide range of operational benefits. It simplifies management and the Endpoint cloud capacity enables Lancaster University to add functionality if required in the future. Network security has been significantly enhanced with a robust web blocking endpoint solution for homeworkers minimising the risk from potentially malicious sites, Phishing and Command-and-control attacks.
“The dedicated Sophos GitHub gives us access to up-to-the-minute information and developments that will enable wider capabilities in the future and Lancaster University now has access to the real time information it needs to gain a clear understanding of all network activity.
“We’re picking up incidents we were never aware of before and the ransomware product is brilliant at identifying and rectifying any attacks on the network. And when it comes to the day-to-day management of the solution, there’s little for us to do. The majority of the management functions are easily accessible through the comms system management, but if we need to, we can still drill down to granular information. The root cause analysis function, in particular, is extremely useful and has made troubleshooting a much simpler task.
“Sophos also provided free licences for students and staff to use – helping to ensure that everybody has access to the same robust security solution. It’s helping to embed a holistic approach to security across the organisation.”
Reflecting on the success of the partnership between Softcat and Sophos, Nick Murphy, Sophos Education Account Executive HE/FE, observed that “Being invited into the selection process by Softcat allowed Sophos to demonstrate a level of advanced threat protection and network visibility not previously available to Lancaster University, as well as the ability to protect personal devices. The strong partnership between Softcat and Sophos enables the fantastic institutions within the Higher Education market a seamless route to procurement, providing expertise in licencing, services and support.”
Benefits at a glance
- Framework used for ease of procurement
- Comprehensive implementation guidance and support
- Enhanced functionality and security
“There’s a very good reason why our relationship with Softcat has lasted as long as it has – we view Softcat as our resident technical experts.” said Matt. “Its framework status, sectoral knowledge and experience of the competitive process are also outstanding. We know that when Softcat gets involved in a project it delivers solutions that are great value, highly performative and an ideal fit for our specific needs as a Higher Education provider.”