Birmingham City University (BCU) has enabled a mobile and flexible learning environment for thousands of students following a multi-million pound overhaul of its data centres.
The Midlands university supports over 23,000 students and 3,000 staff between 10 higher education sites across Birmingham.
In 2012 BCU began a project to replace its legacy data centres — designed around its previous IBM mainframe environment — with the construction of two new facilities. Following an EU tender process, the contract for works was handed to Logicalis in a deal worth close to £4 million.
The university has now gone live with the new data centres, which have added the capacity and resiliency lacking in its outage-prone legacy infrastructure, allowing it to provide 24/7 mobile access to applicaitions for students.
"The students work in a very different way to when I was at university — it is almost an anywhere any time type delivery," said Shaun Buffery, associate director for converged infrastructure at BCU.
"They are expecting that services are up and running when they need to use them rather than during the traditional teaching timescales. It is being able to address that demand which created the need to [transform the data centre]."
He added: "It answers that question of whether they can get to a service at 10 o'clock at night to look at study materials to revise from. They can do that now, whereas before we were vulnerable."
Ageing data centre infrastructure
In the past the university had experienced a number of outages due to its creaking systems which consisted of a "sprawl" of different equipment vendors, with the server rooms built to support mainframe architecture used by the university up until the early 2000s.
Its legacy data centre infrastructure comprised four IBM blade chassis with 14 blades each, three HP C3000 chassis and one C7000, alongside a small number of Dell servers and Sun-based AMD servers.
Under the deal with Logicalis, these systems were replaced with six HP C7000 chassis, each with 16 HP blade servers, and virtualised with VMware's ESX hypervisor to support 331 virtual machines across 23 hosts. The chassis are all connected with HP Flex 10 technology to a 10GB network backbone. The university has also increased its storage from 140TB to 400TB.
BCU is now up and running on its two new data centres set up in an active-passive configuration five miles apart — one in the southern campus and one in the centre.
This has improved the resiliency and enabled the university to failover to its secondary facility using VMware management tools, reducing the risk of service outages.
"We were very prone to outages due to power failures in the past — be they onsite or in the local area. If we lost that single server room we were off-air," said Buffery.
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