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Driving Digital Transformation in Higher Education

As decision-makers in higher education look to accelerate the pace of digital transformation, there are role models to follow. This article examines three institutions that have taken advantage of IT modernization to drive digital transformation to the benefit of students, teachers, administrators and IT teams.

University of Pisa: With nearly 50,000 students and more than 3,000 faculty and staff, the University of Pisa needed a reliable, high-performance infrastructure to keep pace with growing demands for robust, responsive information access, remote learning and the latest research tools and capabilities. Use cases included all 20 university departments, focused on technologies such as artificial intelligence for large-scale simulations in research as well as block storage of scientific computing applications for medical and biological research.

To meet these diverse needs, the university turned to Dell PowerMax, Dell PowerStore, Dell PowerScale and VMware vSphere. “We chose PowerMax because it was the first NVMe platform for enterprise storage,” says Maurizio Davini, chief technology officer at the university. “We rely on PowerMax for mission-critical applications such as administrative functions, teaching and labs—because if these workloads stop, we’re closed.” With the new solutions the university has achieved the following results: 

  • Five times faster data processing to meet faculty, staff and student needs.
  • 80% better performance on a wide variety of essential applications.
  • No downtime or data loss, ensuring essential services always remain available.
  • Support for leading-edge teaching and research.

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Xavier UniversityFor Xavier, IT modernization focused on data protection, backup, business continuity and reducing complexity. “Protecting data at Xavier is so crucial because our customers are our students,” says Fred Hedrington II, former assistant director of infrastructure technology and support at Xavier. “Student records, student retention rates—all of these things matter, so we need to be able to not only protect the data but to be able to use it for extended periods of time.” The university modernized data protection and backup with Dell Data Protection Software. Backups of 20 TB now complete in a single evening compared with two or three days with the former solution. With deduplication, the solution uses less capacity and management has been simplified so it can be handled by a single admin. Since installing the new solution, Hedrington says Xavier has been able to “realize the importance of being able to protect that data quickly but, more importantly, restore it in the midst of an emergency.”

Aalto University: Based in Helsinki, Aalto University has 12,000 students and 4,000 personnel, making it Finland’s second largest higher education institution. A major part of the university’s modernization effort was to virtualize expensive and powerful desktop computers so students could log on at any time and from any device to applications for research or coursework. “We wanted to free students from the constraints of IT labs and make our hardware and software available anywhere,” says Hannes Päivänsalo, head of IT operations at Aalto University. “By doing so, we predicted we could redirect the cost of running our IT labs into new strategic ventures.” The university chose a virtual desktop infrastructure solution based on Dell VxRail and VMware Horizon. The investment proved invaluable when students began working from home. “Students could run demanding applications even on basic laptops because the desktops were virtualized and running on VxRail,” says Päivänsalo.

Taking the next step
Colleges and universities must keep pace with the ever-evolving digital needs of their constituents. This means solutions that leverage modern technologies to deliver the performance, agility, business continuity, security and data protection requirements of today’s rapidly changing higher education environments. To learn more about how to advance and accelerate digital transformation at your institution, please visit Dell Technologies.