CUSTOMER STORY

Hands-Off Security Empowers Hands-On Innovation for Hamline University

BENEFITS

Security managed by F5 frees up IT resources for student-facing applications

Clear visibility into security status helps IT team quickly identify attacks

Cloud migration at university’s own pace makes for a manageable transformation

CHALLENGES

Small IT team stretched thin

Security maintenance often deprioritized

Budget constraints mean every piece of tech must provide high value

Hamline University is a small, private liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minnesota. The college is unique for its emphasis on students’ contributions to community needs and social service organizations across its programs. This means getting hands-on learning working with students at a local elementary school, for example, or interning for an environmental cleanup organization. This educational philosophy shows up in the small IT department as a constant need to expand and innovate on technology services for students and faculty in the classroom. Facing this need, but constrained by a small staff and budget, Hamline IT turned to F5 for help. 

Business challenges

With the university’s commitment to giving students hands-on experience across more than 50 areas of study, the IT team needed to have the ability to respond quickly to new program requests with thoughtful and deliberate tech solutions.

Case in point: The introduction of a new Certificate in Music Production meant students needed to practice audio production using a full suite of software services and equipment familiar to what they might encounter in the real world.

But the university’s IT team was already stretched thin overseeing day-to-day tech support, app updates, and server patches. It’s an IT reality: As the digital landscape has grown in scope and complexity, security requirements have become more exacting—and more time-consuming. A small IT team simply doesn’t have the time or resources to meet every project need.

“We were in a situation where security patches, for example, just weren’t being made in a timely way, and we were always rushed and out of time. That’s not how you want to manage security,” said Anthony Schroeder, director of Infrastructure Services at Hamline University.

And the Hamline IT team faced yet another challenge. They needed to create a more agile working environment for faculty, staff, and students that was just as secure off campus as it would be on campus. Even before COVID-19, the hands-on, real-life learning nature of the school meant people needed to be able to work and learn securely no matter where they were.

Solution

Over the past few years, the Hamline IT department has focused on digitally transforming their infrastructure, moving some of their core finance and HR modules from their data centers to a new cloud-based platform. With this migration, they realized the benefits of supplementary security support through cloud providers—but they needed more.

To enable a secure transition of their entire student information system to the cloud, the team selected F5 Cloud Services and F5 Essential App Protect. Essential App Protect is a SaaS security solution that provides out-of-the-box protection from common web exploits, malicious IPs, and coordinated attacks with just a few UI clicks or API calls.

“F5 is the ‘easy button’—they provide that first line of defense we need. Before we provide access to an academic app to every faculty and staff member and student, we need to know we can do it securely,” said Schroeder.

The strategy makes sense for a smaller IT team: instead of stretching in-house resources thin trying to keep up with all monitoring and maintenance needs, look to security experts like F5 who can help provide consistent app security and performance at scale across cloud platforms.

“Every on-prem, self-managed system that we can securely move to the cloud with a qualified provider means we no longer have to do as much work on it. A big part of that is security, and we’re ensuring our cloud partners are aligning with the strictest security protocols,” said Schroeder.

With the shift of its applications to the cloud with F5 Cloud Services, the IT team can now refocus its attention on what matters the most—its students. “Moving things to the cloud with F5 Cloud Services, and using Essential App Protect, means we are doing less taking care of things and more providing real value as a whole, helping faculty, staff, and students solve problems.”

Benefits

Increase in automation

Through the partnership with F5, Schroeder now has the confidence that his team has back-end support for every service they provide to the university. “In the past, my team was always the one on the hook to cover the maintenance and upkeep of all our security services,” Schroeder said. “Quite frankly, we couldn’t scale through staff levels to do that. But Essential App Protect and F5 Cloud Services does that automatically for us—and that’s the biggest value-add.”

Improved visibility

As a crucial security benefit, F5 Cloud Services and Essential App Protect make it easy to monitor activity across all apps. “If we want to go in and look at things, it’s easy to see what threats have been blocked and what the security system is doing for us. Super easy setup was a huge plus for our small team—we didn’t need any specialized expertise to deploy these F5 services. And with a smaller crew, quick and easy are obviously best.”

A renewed focus

As the Hamline University educational philosophy continues to prize hands-on and real-life experience for its students, the need for specific technology that complements specific courses will only increase. As this forces the IT team to manage a growing tech stack, they can rest easy with a cloud strategy that distributes responsibility for security upkeep. Partners like F5 will enable the university to grow its technology acumen beyond what its small IT team would ordinarily be equipped to handle, giving students access to the tech experiences they need to thrive in their careers.