Setting standards in IT

Setting standards in IT

Darlene Schroeder explains how our world-class IT systems are growing with us.

For centuries the University of Cambridge has led academic standards across the world. More recently, the Cambridge 'tech cluster' has been at the forefront of developments in IT. Engineers, programmers, testers, project managers and IT professionals of all kinds are heading to Cambridge to collaborate on the next wave of innovation in IT for business.

Cambridge Assessment, a part of the University and Europe's largest educational assessment agency, has experienced consistent growth in the last few years and now "Exam results can open doors and change lives."

sends exam papers to candidates in more than 170 countries. Our development has raised a number of complex IT challenges. Consider for a moment the logistics of managing thousands of high-stakes examination products taken by millions of candidates, yielding tens of millions of marks, in a manner that, for obvious reasons, needs to be totally secure. Add to that the fact these exam results can open doors and change lives and you'll begin to understand why we need the most powerful, reliable IT systems and infrastructure. Moreover, while the vast majority of the exams we manage are still done on paper, computer-based learning and testing is a huge development area. Some 43 million teachers, learners and members of the public visit our websites each year, and the customer experience needs to be first-class: Cambridge is a respected brand with a reputation for excellence that must be maintained.

To ensure the right systems and services are in place to support our global educational mission for years to come, we are transforming our IT. A major technology "Our purpose-built data centre is so advanced that is has been used to support data analysis for the Hadron Collider."

refresh will see ageing, bespoke software replaced with an integrated enterprise-wide platform and market-leading standard solutions. Our purpose-built data centre, developed in partnership with the University of Cambridge, opened last year, and is so advanced that it has been used to support data analysis for the Hadron Collider. And there’s change in other areas too.

Connecting globally

With 8 million students around the world, we need to deliver services internationally to the same level and standard as we do in the UK, in a very ‘local’ way. A key component of this strategy is the move to browser-based systems, which enable high performance, even in environments with relatively poor network-based latency. We also have to ensure our services are available 24 x 7 x 365 to meet the needs of our customers and users in every market and time zone around the world.

We are using the latest deployed Cisco Nexus and there is an upcoming project to look at VMWARE NSX, which is software-defined networking technology that would "With 8 million students around the world, we need to deliver services internationally to the same level and standard as we do in the UK."

enable faster deployment of workloads, as well as greater agility within our data centre. A natural progression from this increasingly virtualised environment is a private cloud project that combines VrealiseAutomation and NSX, to give learners mobile access, with a Service-Oriented Architecture that allows them to experience the network as if it were a large software application.

Storage and delivery

At Cambridge Assessment we currently use state of the art Tintri storage, which uses solid-state memory and gives exceptional performance as a result. It is built from the ground up to work with a virtual environment and boasts a phenomenal 2.5PB total storage capacity.

We also leverage a leading Cloud service, which uses AWS MS Azure, as well as offerings from other providers, to maintain flexibility. Being able to purchase and deploy resilient workflow in the Cloud increases the reach to deploy services to end-users. We are also working with a content delivery network provider (CDM) to ensure content is available globally.

Growing expertise

The most advanced, high-performance technology is wasted without the right people to develop, maintain and exploit it. Here at Cambridge Assessment we have been investing in our people to grow in-house capacity, expertise and knowledge, to the point that our IT practitioners are now at the core of the change process, enabling "It's the people who keep a company at the leading-edge."

and driving growth in other key areas. A Centre of Excellence supports our enterprise solution, while small teams of web, data and digital experts use agile methods to work responsively alongside business colleagues on innovative solutions and new products. As one team member said, “The technology is amazing but, ultimately, it’s the people who keep a company at the leading-edge.”

Darlene Schroeder
Group Chief Technology Officer, Cambridge Assessment

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