London’s institutions can rest assured that vital data are secure thanks to a powerful network. Chris Johnston assesses a capital investment
London is home to 100 universities and colleges of further education. Although staff and students at those institutions number more than 1 million, it is probably safe to say that few of them are aware of the special link that joins them and helps bring them their messages and web pages when they log on to read their email or to surf the net.
Connecting these institutions - from Brunel University at Uxbridge in west London to the University of East London at Barking and Barnet College in the north to Croydon College in south London - is the London Metropolitan Network.
The non-profit network was set up in 1996. Though it is linked to the Joint Academic Network (Janet), it is owned and managed by its member institutions. It has grown rapidly in the four years since the installation of a super-fast network that can transmit the entire works of Bach in two seconds.
With higher education institutions highly dependent on technology to operate, loss of data such as enrolment information or exam results could have catastrophic consequences. However, backing up computer files is cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive.
In a bid to solve the problem, the London network offers member institutions online remote data storage provided by InTechnology. Its VBAK service backs up data automatically, encrypts it and sends files via a secure network to a remote data centre.
Mahmood Javaid, the network’s business development manager, said off-site data storage emerged as a key issue in a recent survey of member requirements. “We are offering the VBAK service to our community in London as a collaborative and cost-effective way of assuring the integrity and security of their teaching and research, academic and administrative data through our network.”
Birkbeck, University of London, and the London Business School have already decided to use the VBAK service, which allows individual files or entire data sets to be quickly restored, minimising delays.
Jasbir S. Gill, Birkbeck’s central computing services director, says the volume of data generated rises every year, making the task of backing up increasingly difficult. The college also had security risks associated with its location, requiring it to store backups off-site. “We will all be able to sleep more soundly at night, safe in the knowledge that the institution’s valuable data resources are being held securely, far removed from central London,” Gill says.
There are other benefits to institutions, says Peter White, operations manager for the London Metropolitan Network. “Because the VBAK service is automated, it can free IT staff in our member institutions from the chores of manual data backup procedures and allow them to focus on supporting teaching and learning.”
InTechnology was chosen after a trial to ensure that VBAK met the needs of London’s higher education community. The deal is a significant boost to the company as each contract is worth up to £300,000.
Javaid said the network’s link with the firm will allow it to offer additional services and benefits to members in future.