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Taking the University of the West of England securely into the cloud

Summary

The University of the West of England (UWE) needed secure log-in procedures and efficient user administration when it moved its in house student email service to Microsoft’s cloud-based Live@edu service.

A robust identity platform based on Microsoft Forefront Identity Manager (FIM) 2010 and Rights Management Services.

Results

  • Improved security.
  • Integrated experience.
  • Controlled costs.
"We had already worked with Microsoft partner, ThirdSpace, to streamline identity management across our university, which made the decision to deploy Live@edu a lot easier." Alistair Sandford Senior Project Manager UWE IT Services

The situation

The University of the West of England (UWE) enjoys a well-deserved reputation for excellence in learning and teaching. Operating from four campuses in and around Bristol, UWE is the largest provider of higher education in the South West. Students are attracted to the university from all parts of the UK, as well as a significant number of international students from over 140 countries worldwide.

UWE offers more than 600 courses at undergraduate, postgraduate, professional and short course levels, and has a vision to provide an excellent student experience – to be the best for student representation; the best for preparing graduates for work and life after graduation; and the best for supporting student learning and well-being in a vibrant, healthy and sustainable learning environment.

Email is critical to UWE’s ability to communicate with its student population, and for its students to communicate with each other and their lecturers. The University’s in-house student email system provided limited functionality and storage capacity. Overall use of the email system reflected its limitations. Students were increasingly turning to other hosted email services to obtain greater storage capacity, improved usability and features.

The University and its departments use email to disseminate essential information across its campuses. Its IT Services department recognised that in order to encourage students to adopt the UWE issued email account, it needed to significantly improve its functionality and provide increased storage capacity.

Following a successful pilot, UWE decided to move its email services to Microsoft’s cloud-based Live@edu service. Live@edu is a no-cost, hosted platform for student communication and collaboration. Its rich portfolio of email, collaboration and calendaring services includes document sharing facilities, instant messaging, video chat and mobile email.

Alistair Sandford, Senior Project Manager UWE IT Services recalls: “We had a 20 megabytes-per-user allowance, which was inhibiting our students’ use of our email system. We wanted to enhance the student experience, and not only does Live@edu provide a much improved feature set, it also offers 5GB of storage per account.

“To have provided this in-house would have been extremely costly, so Microsoft’s cloud-based email solution has enabled us to deliver significant benefits to our students and reduced our overheads. In addition, it’s also shifted the burden of technical support away from the university’s staff.”

 

The problem

Whilst adopting cloud-based applications can bring considerable benefits, the provisioning of software from third parties over a network poses a number of challenges. Protecting business critical or confidential information that is located in the Cloud requires both secure log-in procedures and efficient user administration.

Alistair Sandford comments: “Any organisation looking to deploy to the cloud needs robust and consistent identity management platforms and processes in order to use the same security policies, provisioning rules and audit constraints for all their environments – both inside and outside the firewall. We had already worked with Microsoft partner ThirdSpace to streamline identity management across our university, which made the decision to deploy Live@edu a lot easier.”

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The solution

ThirdSpace is an IT Services company specialising in identity and access management. The company has a longstanding relationship with UWE and the design and development of an identity management platform based on Microsoft MIIS 2003, which has since been upgraded to FIM. This enabled UWE to securely navigate its identity management into the Cloud.

The ThirdSpace identity management solution for UWE provided the university with the processes and technology to securely and automatically manage its identities. With such a reliable identity layout, UWE was able to quickly deploy Live@edu and be confident that the creation and deletion of user accounts and entitlement changes would seamlessly integrate into its new cloud-based email application.

Neil Coughlan, CEO of ThirdSpace comments: “Identity and access management (IAM) is already a tough task for many organisations. Ensuring that employees or students only have access to what they need is a complex challenge, made especially more critical when you’re accessing third party software in the cloud. Changes to a user’s access need to be automatically propagated throughout the organisation on all affected systems.”

The ThirdSpace implementation of Rights Management Services (RMS) provided further security assurances to the university. The technology enabled the creation of information protection solutions for websites, emails and documents, and allowed the University’s staff to control what students could do with the information it sent out (such as limit circulation or print capability).

The benefits

Improved security

With FIM, all of UWE’s user identities and passwords are created and stored in Microsoft Active Directory, but can be used across any number of platforms – in this case, the Live@edu platform. Not only does this eliminate a huge administrative task, but it makes the student email accounts more secure and easier for UWE to control, because they aren’t stored in the cloud.

Integrated experience

Through the use of FIM and associated Microsoft technologies, UWE provides a single-sign on (SSO) platform across a range of its student facing services.

Alistair Sandford adds: “Our identity management platform provides the capability to interface with different applications, both internal and in the Cloud, and provide an integrated single-sign on experience. Students can simply sign into the university portal and get straight through to their Live@edu mailbox without having to sign in again. This has significant user as well as administrative benefits.”

Controlled costs

In addition, having a robust and reliable identity platform will help UWE to manage software licensing going forward – and avoid paying for more users than they need at any time. If UWE decides to adopt additional license-based cloud applications in the future, then they can be confident that they can control their licensing and costs, and minimise the potential wastage of paying for extra accounts that aren’t required.

 

Conclusion

Alistair Sandford concludes: “Re-thinking identity management should be the starting point for any organisation looking to access cloud-based applications. You’ve got to consider authentication, administrative controls, where data resides and who has access to it. I would strongly recommend ThirdSpace’ services. They are experts in their field and will deliver an identity platform that will allow you to navigate securely to the cloud, quickly and seamlessly.”

Next, download ‘The business case for IAM’ e-Guide and become the driving force behind modernisation, cyber security and operational efficiency in your organisation.

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University of the West of England

The University of the West of England (UWE) was founded in 1595 and today has more than 30,000 students and employs at least 3,000 staff.

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