Sun builds university’s £130m business

16 Jan 2003

The University of Ulster at Jordanstown has revealed that a new managed learning environment constructed last year by Sun Microsystems is the glue holding together its 28,000 student body spread across a variety of campuses as well as a 3,500-strong online and distance learning student body.

Andrew Gregg, the assistant director of the university’s corporate information and infrastructure services department, told that the college – today a £130m sterling-a-year business – will be using its managed learning environment to spearhead growth in domestic and overseas markets.

For example, he cited how universities in the US are using the managed learning environment to access disaster and trauma nursing courses in the aftermath of 11 September and the threat of impending war on Iraq.

“The university as a whole came together to decide how best to use technology. Two main drivers were settled on – the development of a managed learning environment to support both on-campus and distance learners and the consolidation of critical business systems such as management information systems (MIS), library and research,” Gregg said.

“As we examined our existing IT infrastructure, it became evident that we only had ‘spit and string’ holding everything together. There were disparate servers doing disparate things and everything needed to be pulled together. We didn’t have the expertise in-house to do this, so we decided to go out and procure a relationship with a supplier and not just a product,” Gregg added.

A scalable high availability platform was required to host business critical services such as an online learning application from WebCT, as well as MIS, library and research services.

After a lengthy tendering process the university awarded the contract to develop the infrastructure to Sun Microsystems and its partners Access Computing and Horizon Open Systems.

As a result the 20 servers that previously hosted business critical services at the university were consolidated down onto a single Sun Microsystems Sun Fire 6800.

To capitalise on its IT investment, the University of Ulster is understood to be exploring the idea of becoming a service provider by hosting applications for other educational institutions in Northern Ireland.

“This project represents a major income stream for the university and allows us to expand online at very little additional cost,” Gregg said.

“It offers us so much potential and yet we estimate that the adoption of this infrastructure will save the university around £450,000 sterling over the next five years,” he added.

In 2001, the university held its first graduation in Bangladesh for students graduating from the online learning biomedical science masters degree.

By John Kennedy