Based in the UK, Lincoln College developed a strategy to take itself international, and in February 2014 it won a bid for an initiative to open three satellite colleges in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with a specific focus on vocational education. The contract allows the college to provide educational support for up to 3,000 students over a five year period.
After winning the bid in February, Lincoln College faced the challenge of opening the colleges in just six months. But this wasn’t the only issue; the team was provided with empty buildings with no IT systems in place, and only a basic network that they couldn’t change.
As the colleges were being created from a blank canvas, there was a need to build an infrastructure that could scale as the number of students grew. This included in-classroom applications and technology, such as interactive whiteboards. In addition, the colleges needed a solution that could support its student monitoring system to enable the measurement of student attendance which is the basis for which Lincoln College is remunerated.
There was also a need for a platform infrastructure that could support the day-to-day running of the colleges including multi-function print services and Wi-Fi for staff in the living quarters.
Furthermore, Lincoln College wanted to ensure that all of these services would work in circumstances that were not reliant on an internet connection since the colleges were located in areas susceptible to sandstorms. Not something that the original site in Lincolnshire had to contend with!
Lincoln College didn’t see this as a problem, but rather the chance to develop a truly bespoke system to best fit its requirements; as Simon Plummer, managing director of Lincoln College KSA said: “We’re in a great position to have a really bespoke and best practice starting point. Most work is often trying to fix something that’s been there over a period of time and you don’t get the chance to start from nothing very often so that’s a unique opportunity.”
Lincoln College worked with Circle IT both in the UK and in Saudi Arabia to develop a bespoke, layered infrastructure that would provide the bedrock of the other services the colleges required to operate.
The partnership led to an infrastructure that incorporates Dell EMC Blade Chassis servers, HyperV Cluster, SonicWALL Cluster for firewall services, System Centre, Virus Endpoint protection, and Dell EMC Net Vault to provide a reliable backup solution.
In addition, Circle IT provides a fully managed support service, acting as the first line of support on an ongoing basis. This includes regular team visits to the college locations, including Chris James, technical project manager, who spends one week a month in-country to provide IT infrastructure management. Circle IT also provides back up support remotely from the UK. “We could have appointed an infrastructure manager to work in Saudi Arabia, but the great thing about working with a third party is that we’re not reliant on one individual,” added Graham Harrison, Head of IT, Lincoln College.
This provides the basis for which the colleges can operate, particularly in three key areas; the IT that is needed for the classrooms, including interactive projectors and computers, the systems that allow for the day-to-day running of the colleges, and the systems that enable staff based in living quarters to connect to the outside world.
This design allows the IT system within the colleges to reliably stand on its own even if internet connectivity fails, and to scale as the colleges continue to grow.
Value for money
Unlike some of its competitors, Lincoln College chose to work with a mix of providers from within and outside the Kingdom. However, this has actually resulted in an infrastructure that is more reliable than in other colleges. This, along with Lincoln College’s commitment to using best of breed services, has delivered value for money through reliable services that can scale as the student populations grow.
Meets environmental and cultural needs
Designing an infrastructure that doesn’t rely on an internet connection means the colleges can operate independently even when cut off from the outside world. Additionally the on-site infrastructures means the colleges are respectful of local requirements surrounding personal data. “You can’t use cloud services because of a cultural steer towards not having any personal data leave the Kingdom,” said Harrison. “Working with Circle IT has given us the best design to work with these constraints, not against them.”
Having a platform-based infrastructure means that the colleges will be able to simply slot in extra services as they grow, ultimately aiming to reach 3,000 students and helping to grow Lincoln College as a business. “Circle IT has provided us with the infrastructure platform we needed, in a challenging environment on which we can deliver services that make a difference to the international business,” added Plummer.
“The work that we did with Circle IT can only be described in one way – transformational! Our resulting infrastructure and strategy creates a future proof platform to meet the growing demands of media rich teaching and learning, and data-driven organisational management.”
Simon Plummer, Managing Director, Lincoln College KSA