Milton Keynes College overhauls data centre to support mobile learning for students

Milton Keynes College has replaced its legacy data centre infrastructure with more reliable and energy-efficient hardware, allowing students to access course material through mobile devices.


Milton Keynes College has modernised its data centre infrastructure in order to improve energy efficiency and provide a high-speed wireless network for students to access course materials through mobile devices.

The further education college had struggled to enable its 1,000 staff and 20,000 students to connect tablets and laptops to online resources and virtual learning environments in the past. In addition, it’s ageing systems led to server failures which frequently disrupted classroom activity across its three campuses.

In order to improve student experience with more reliable infrastructure, the college invested in new networking, servers and storage from Dell.

“Our BYOD strategy is moving forward thanks to the Dell infrastructure that we have in place,” said Dr Daniel Hidlebaugh, director of IT development and emerging technologies at Milton Keynes College. “It has given us the IT to handle the thousands of requests that we receive from student devices to connect to our network.”

Legacy replacement

The migration to its new data centre environment began in late 2011 and was completed with the help of service provider Circle IT by Easter 2014.

This included deploying five Dell PowerEdge M620 blade servers with Intel Xeon processors, sitting in a Dell PowerEdge M1000e modular blade enclosure and virtualised with Microsoft Hyper-V. The server environment supports Windows Server 2012, and is connected to Dell EqualLogic PS4110X storage arrays.

The college also introduced Dell Networking MXL 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches and incorporated the Microsoft Server Message Block (SMB) protocol and InfiniBand technology to ensure high speed data flows between hardware systems.

Replacing legacy Cisco kit, the college rolled out 23 Dell Networking 5548 switches, six 8100 switches (now renamed N4000 switches), and two Dell Networking Z9000 core switches.

The new infrastructure has created a more reliable IT environment, improving the level of service offered to students and staff by reducing the time taken on to log on to college systems and access data.

“Before this project started, we had hundreds of help-desk calls that were open. But because our IT is reliable and has redundancy built in, that number has fallen to a couple of dozen, and we normally get these cleared within a single working day,” said Dr Hidlebaugh.

The college also invested in Dell XPS 10 tablets, with the aim of helping to improve student participation in classes. 

‘Green data centre savings’

By consolidating its legacy environment, which included five server racks, Milton Keynes College hopes to improve energy efficiency, with an expectation to reduce its power and cooling costs by around 75 percent, saving £210,000 over three years.

Including this saving, the college has aimed for a total reduction in spending of approximately £700,000 over three years by lowering its capex spend on hardware and virtualisation software licensing costs.

“By virtualising our entire data centre, we’ve significantly reduced capital expense and by switching to Hyper-V we no longer face licensing costs for our hypervisors,” said Dr Hidlebaugh.

The college is now considering replacing infrastructure in other parts of its premises to achieve further savings.

“We now have plans to similarly upgrade our infrastructure at our other two campuses, working alongside Dell to replicate our success across the whole organisation.”

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