In February 2011, HEFCE provided £12.5 million of funding to enable universities and colleges to gain efficiencies and perform better through shared services and cloud computing. The University Modernisation Fund Shared Services and the Cloud Programme, managed by JISC, completed its investment in March 2012. It has since received a further sustainability fund until March 2013. This updated briefing paper provides an overview of the services and support that now exist through the programme: their progress, benefits, and links to further information.

Universities Modernisation Fund

Shared Services and the Cloud Programme

In February 2011, HEFCE provided £12.5 million of funding to enable universities and colleges to gain efficiencies and perform better through shared services and cloud computing.

The University Modernisation Fund Shared Services and the Cloud Programme, managed by JISC, completed its investment in March 2012. It has since received a further sustainability fund until March 2013. This updated briefing paper provides an overview of the services and support that now exist through the programme: their progress, benefits, and links to further information.  

What is ‘the cloud’ and why is it good for the sector?

Cloud computing delivers to institutions a broad range of virtual resources, including shared services with others, at a fraction of the cost of designing, building and managing their own locally. It also allows users to collaborate on joint projects.

There are three major services provided by the cloud. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides access to virtual servers, data storage and computing power. Platform as a Service (PaaS) provides virtual tools for users to develop and host their own applications. Software as a Service (SaaS) provides end-user (eg student) access to applications online.

JISC’s programmes cover these three services, with projects geared to supporting research, learning and teaching, and providing cloud-based interoperability between institutions.

As cloud computing becomes a more reliable and secure solution, it is emerging as a powerful ally at a time when institutions are facing unparalleled demands to provide the highest quality student experience, be ever more cost efficient, deliver world-class research, and perform well on a highly competitive global stage. Against these challenges, and when compared to in-house investment and capability, cloud computing can deliver:

  • Significantly more computing power with potential long-term cost benefits
  • Access to proven, high-quality hardware, software and systems, and their ongoing update and maintenance
  • Shared services for administrative functions that can be potentially more effective and cheaper

What’s in the UMF Shared Services and the Cloud Programme?

The programme is providing cloud services and support under two main activity areas: shared IT infrastructure and shared services for administration.

Shared IT infrastructure:

  • A brokerage service to assist institutions in the procurement of cloud services.
    JANET Brokerage is helping institutions to procure cloud computing, data centre and other services. The team provides an independent interface between sector and suppliers and can assist institutions with due diligence, legal, contractual and technical matters. JANET Brokerage has created the first ever cloud infrastructure framework, bringing together eight of the largest suppliers and a suite of products with pre-agreed terms and conditions.

  • A secure HE cloud offering cost-effective data management and storage services.
    Following its work on the UMF Cloud Pilot, Eduserv has launched Education Cloud. Its aim is to reduce the amount of time and money universities spend on developing in-house data centre infrastructure by providing alternative cloud data storage and management. The full service has been in place since April 2012, including a high-speed connection to the JANET network.

  • Four cloud applications designed specifically for researchers and their work:

    • Due for release at the end of June 2012, the BRISSkit project will provide open source applications and data hosting to support researchers in the field of biomedicine and bioinformatics. The service is currently running on the Eduserv Education Cloud, available over the JANET network, accessible via a web browser.

    • DataFlow is a two-part cloud-based data management system for researchers. DataStage is a secure file management system for use at the research group level, allowing private, shared and collaborative directories mapped direct to users’ computers. DataBank is a scalable data repository designed to assist with collaboration, discovery and citation while allowing secure controls such as various data visibility levels and embargo management.

    • The Smart Research Framework has developed a suite of essential tools for research data management. LabTrove is a cloud-based Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) software suite for data management and collaboration. It has been deployed on the Eduserv Education Cloud and is now available as a service. Blog3, a research-focused blogging engine, and LabBroker, a middleware solution that logs information across a network, are both at the prototype stage.

    • Based at the University of Oxford, VIDaaS (Virtual Infrastructure with Database as a Service) is developing software that will enable researchers across all academic disciplines to build, edit, search and share databases online. The DaaS (Database as a Service) product is currently being run on the Oxford private cloud. Migration to a public commercial platform is underway, along with development on additional functionality. The public service is expected to launch in the summer of  2012.

Shared Services for administration:

  • The creation and maintenance of an ‘Enterprise Service Bus’ (ESB) within the cloud that can connect cloud-hosted applications to systems hosted within institutions. Delivered through JISC Advance Nexus , the ESB platform has been selected and built, and is in production at the University of London Computer Centre.

  • A specialist JISC Advance team to support institutions in procuring cloud-based administrative services. Nexus is an initiative offering three key, and interlinked, cloud services: IT procurement, an integration service based on the use of an Enterprise Service Bus (see above), and contract management of the RMAS framework agreement. The service is in place and able to offer institutions a strong value proposition relating to improved efficiencies and reduced costs.

  • A research management and administration service (RMAS) that provides cloud-based modules to support universities’ research programmes. The RMAS project delivers efficiency savings by allowing institutions to integrate existing systems with new RMAS modules hosted in a secure and trusted HE cloud. The RMAS procurement frameworks are now in place, with suppliers selected, approved and on board. The procurement service provides a fully compliant alternative to the OJEU process, enabling faster, easier and cheaper procurement for institutions.

  • Support for electronic resource management, including the management of licensing information. Knowledge Base+ is a shared UK academic knowledge base service. It is due for deployment in the summer of 2012, and already has verified lists for 30 publishers covering 12,000 titles, including core journals subscribed to by the academic community. The database will cover all ‘subscribed resources’ from a higher education perspective. That includes publication information, holdings and rights, subscription management, organisations, licences and evidence such as usage statistics across all UK academic libraries.

  • A service for the secure distribution of electronic documents, including the HEAR (Higher Education Activity Report).  Due to launch in summer 2012, Project DARE will provide a system for the secure online delivery of degree certificates, transcripts, Higher Education Achievement Reports and other student data and documents. The service provides significant cost, time and resource savings by automating the current paper-based process.

Next steps for institutions interested in JISC’s cloud activities

Further information on the UMF Shared Services and the Cloud Programme can be found on our website.

Institutions interested in procuring administrative systems or making use of the national ESB should contact JISC Advance at info@nexus.ac.uk.

Institutions with a need to refresh or replace a datacentre should contact the JANET Brokerage at brokerage@ja.net.

Links to further information 

The JISC-funded Digital Curation Centre is working in depth with selected institutions to develop skills and capacity for research data management services.

'Cloud computing increasingly attractive to universities', JISC news report.

Using cloud computing for research: introduction, briefing paper, report and project plan.

JISC’s Flexible Service Delivery programme provides broader guidance on effective practice in service delivery, including the use of the cloud and shared services.

The Research infrastructure programme supports institutions with the development of research-oriented applications and services within HE shared infrastructures.

InfraNET is a European Commission funded programme to support integration between e-infrastructures in different countries, and lead the harmonisation and coordination of various national efforts.

Summary
Publication Date
30 July 2012
Publication Type
Programmes
Topic
Strategic Themes