University Campus Suffolk (UCS) has begun a project to replace its legacy HP servers with Fujitsu’s vShape virtualised infrastructure, allowing it to increase compute capacity in a smaller data centre space.
IT staff at the university, launched in 2007, provide the 8,500 students and staff across six sites in Suffolk with a range of services including finance, HR, virtual learning systems and a student information system from Tribal.
The institution has so far relied on its 96 HP blade and rack mount servers running Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003 to deliver services, as well as 96TB of DX80 Eternus storage from Fujitsu, following the replacement of its IBM SAN two years ago.
However UCS decided to replace its ageing server infrastructure as it began to encounter problems in meeting demand for server capacity, after it moved to new premises in 2012. With only one third of the space in its new data centre building, there is little room for server expansion to meet demands on its ageing systems, making it difficult to roll out new applications, or meet demands for new research projects.
In addition to this IT staff have been faced with difficulties in maintenance, with considerable amounts of down time when applying updates to the servers.
UCS director of IT services, Peter O’Rourke, said that a decision was made to move to a fully virtualised environment as the time approached to refresh its servers.
“There were a number of factors behind the decision. Obviously age because the servers are now getting beyond what we would regards as their potentially useful working life, and you start running into maintenance and operational issues,” said O’Rourke. “But we also knew that we wanted to virtualise because we wanted to reclaim space so that we could grow inside the new data centre.”
He added: “We knew that the existing infrastructure had performance issues – so do you chuck more tin at it, or do you virtualise so that you can improve the performance that way? We knew that we have got to migrate that system whatever we do."
A previous attempt to introduce VMware virtualisation to its systems had been made on a small scale, but ran into problems with the complex IT landscape presenting a barrier to any significant change.
Following a project to reduce complexity within existing systems, UCS looked at a number of vendors to assist in the wholesale migration to a virtualised environment. This led to UCS deciding on Fujitsu’s pre-integrated vShape 100 virtualisation infrastructure, consisting of five Primergy servers capable of running 100 virtual machines, along with NetApp FAS NAS storage and Brocade Fibre Channel switches.
Despite its history as an “HP house”, UCS decided against similar offerings from Hewlett Packard, IBM and Dell, choosing instead to implement Fujitsu’s converged infratructure system.
“We spent a lot of time working with Fujitsu, saying ‘can you prove to us that this works as least as good, if not better, than the corresponding HP solutions?’. Essentially I was asking my technical people, who are very pro-HP, to jump ship to another vendor.”
According to O’Rourke, one of the main reasons for choosing Fujitsu was the vendor's willingness to enage in a "strategic relationship" with the university. In part this meant working with UCS on an academic level for research projects, , he said, with access to Fujitsu’s technology at least as important as the solution itself.
“We are looking to work with a vendor at a strategic level ,so we spent time talking to people like HP, IBM and Fujitsu about how we would work together on a much broader basis than just what tin we have got in our data centre to run our business systems.”
“To work with us at that level HP expected a much larger capital investment from the university in order to do things like get to their research labs, which is quite a useful thing for a university to do,” he said.
A like for like replacement of physical servers was also looked at but deemed unrealistic, with costs likely to run over £400,000, O'Rourke pointed out. Instead, by implementing Fujitsu’s virtualised environment, UCS costs were £120,000 for the entire system solution.
The vShape system is currently being installed at UCS, and O’Rourke expects to begin migrating major applications this summer, with a full move expected to be conducted over 12 months.
O’Rourke added that the vShape implementation will provide the basis for further improvements to its infrastructure, improving backup and disaster recovery systems.
“The major element we want to change is the way we do backup and DR moving forward. Currently if we had an issue it takes us a minimum of five days to recover our core systems, and five to ten days to recover most of the major systems.”
He added that once the vShape migration is complete, introducing and deploying new software and applications will be significantly easier, enabling the university to move to Exchange Server 2010 much more quickly for example.
Migrating its student information systems will also allow the university to meet the requirements of admissions service UCAS to bring in a paperless application system, which had proved difficult using on its legacy infrastructure.
“The major system we want to move is the student information system. We are moving to a paperless application system, and we know we have got some performance challenges with how it is currently implemented. We want to give that a fresh infrastructure so we can remove some of those issues.”