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Briefing note ECN advances shared IT services in Higher-Ed across NB and PEI

Author: ITS

Posted on Aug 2, 2016

Category: Management Briefings

The NB/PEI Educational Computer Network (ECN) has provided shared IT services to universities and colleges in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island for 45 years. Over this time, ECN membership expanded from just a few schools to include all publicly funded universities and colleges in the two provinces. ECN is governed by a Board of Directors consisting of the Presidents/CEOs of member institutions, and is managed by a Network Committee consisting of the IT directors of the members. The Information Technology Services (ITS) unit at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) is the main operator and services provider for ECN shared IT services.

The core shared service of the ECN has always been connecting member institutions via a dedicated high-speed, high-capacity research and education data network. The network is far more cost-effective for members than using commercial communications networks for connectivity amongst each other and the rest of the world. On the other hand, ECN periodically negotiates with telecommunications vendors for consortium access to the public internet, thus providing additional data services to all at very low cost. Members also jointly purchase and deploy centrally managed software applications such as anti-spam filtering, dramatically reducing the amount of spam individual institutions receive and process, and SharePoint, a Microsoft software platform used for file sharing and co-editing, document and records management, and collaboration projects.

Understanding full well that it could and should deliver many more services to reduce costs even further for members, ECN embarked on a review and renewal of its strategy in 2012. As a first step in determining new projects to undertake as a consortium, the ECN hired an external consultant to perform an assessment of the technical infrastructure and processes both for individual member institutions and for the consortium as a whole. Completed in May 2013, this assessment formed the basis of the current ECN multi-year strategic plan. Key elements included investment in UNB’s data centre, to provide a home for consolidated data centres and other new services; adoption and deployment of collaborative tools starting with federated identity, allowing users at all member institutions to connect seamlessly and easily to shared applications like SharePoint; and implementation of disaster and business continuity services across the consortium. Last year, ECN’s approach to shared IT services was recognized with the inaugural CUCCIO (Canadian University Council of CIOs) Collaboration Award.

The recent migration of enterprise software applications and services from Mount Allison University (MTA) and St. Thomas University (STU) to the UNB data centre highlights ECN members’ confidence in and enthusiasm for the strategic plan. By housing key IT infrastructure including servers, data storage, and backups at UNB, MTA and STU eliminate the need for maintaining their own data centres, while enjoying completely autonomous access to and control of their IT environments via the ECN network. Maritime College of Forest Technology (MCFT) is also locating all its key IT infrastructure in the centre; significant software and computing facility cost savings allow MTA, STU, and MCFT to invest more in local IT needs like services to clients and other priorities.

Other ECN members have also deployed critical IT equipment and services in the UNB data centre, or are planning to do so. New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) has installed a data storage system; University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) will be backing up its new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system; Université de Moncton will be installing a disaster recovery solution for its ERP; and Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission (MPHEC) is working on a similar deployment. It is expected that even more ECN members will avail themselves of the UNB service, as they work through long-term infrastructure plans and strategies.

View the video recently commissioned by ECN