True vendor partnerships key to TAFE’s success

Chris Tayler, acting CIO at Box Hill TAFE, explains how strategic vendor relationships have helped to boost IT services while controlling costs.

The Box Hill TAFE in Victoria, through its entrepreneurial relationships with leading vendors such as Cisco, Microsoft, Apple and APC, provides students with the opportunity to study at specialised academies within the TAFE. Chris Tayler, the acting CIO, has the responsibility of ensuring the 24/7 operation is accessible for students across three metropolitan campuses plus many more international sites such as Fiji, Samoa and Kuwait.

Box Hill is not just an information technology (IT) TAFE; it is a multidiscipline TAFE that provides studies in a range of diverse areas from nursing degrees to plumbing to Cisco engineering. In a very competitive Victorian education system, Box Hill is in the top three TAFEs in size and caters for 40,000-plus students.

Tayler started life at the TAFE as an IT teacher and as acting CIO meets the challenge of keeping the student applications such as the student portal, student records, student management and e-learning systems available as well as the physical network which includes Dell servers and storage and Cisco networking.

“Students who are the best little hackers were able to bring down part of the network three years ago but with increased security they haven’t been able to for the last three years,” said Tayler.

One of his latest challenges was moving the data centre. It was in prime real estate on the campus and it had also run out of capacity, could not expand any further, the air conditioning was failing and there was no more power available.

A new site was found, one floor down, and the TAFE went out to tender for the construction of a new data centre. This resulted in APC by Schneider Electric winning the data centre power role.

“We selected APC because they could scale up; provide hot aisle/cool aisle technology. We moved all our legacy systems and configured them in a very short time frame in the new data centre. As we only use 50% of the space now we save on cooling costs by not having to provide cooling to the whole centre.

“We also use APC UPSs which can monitor the power right down to the individual rack level. Plus we have a line to a substation in Box Hill now so our power supply is guaranteed. If there was a power failure the APC UPSs would keep the data centre operating for two hours until we got generator power running.

“It is far more reliable and has cut costs. We would have loved the ability to measure the metrics of the savings but this was not physically possible from the old data centre,” said Tayler.

The TAFE is also fortunate in having its own fibre, which provides unlimited fibre due to the Victorian Government’s broadband network that runs at 100 Mbits in the metropolitan area and 50 Mbits in regional areas.

“So Box Hill can continue to grow its network. We couldn’t afford to wait for the National Broadband Network,” said Tayler.

“With 23 staff to look after, all the applications and physical infrastructure, we are skinny on the ground, so we work as smart as humanly possible. Certainly our true partnerships with the vendors provide the entrepreneurial impetus to stay ahead and provide students with the best experience possible.”

Even though Tayler loves the excitement due to changes in technology that were inconceivable a few short years ago, he does need a sanity check now and again. And what better way than flying a twin-engine plane at 220 km an hour over Melbourne – an activity where he has to stay very focused.

Flying might be a wealth hazard keeping his licence current but it does afford Tayler the luxury of flying down to King Island for some of its famous cheese and playing a round of golf there on a Sunday. He is then relaxed and ready to go on Monday, back to the excitement of the student world.

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