Hybrid cloud model saves university money on a data centre upgrade

Loughborough University implemented a hybrid cloud model and saved money on upgrading its data centre infrastructure, networks and collaborative applications.

Using a hybrid cloud model, Loughborough University is able to upgrade its collaboration applications and data centre infrastructure without building a whole new facility.

Loughborough University needed a high-availability network infrastructure and data centre to support 3000 staff, 1500 students and 1500 university tenants from the business community, as well as its activities while acting as the Official Preparation Camp Headquarters for the London 2012 Olympic Games Team GB.

The Loughborough IT team set out to accomplish a four-strand infrastructure upgrade, affecting the data centre and network, as well as UC and virtual desktop applications.

But the university's existing data centre was so old that it would require a complete physical rebuild with a new building in order to provide the size and scalability for this project. To avoid this expense, Loughborough worked with systems integrator Logicalis to build a hybrid cloud model that would enable some on-site private hosting of applications along with off-site ‘burst’ capacity to provide additional data centre resources as needed. The off-site cloud would be provided by Slough-based Logicalis.

Loughborough's two clouds would be linked together through the UK government-funded academic WAN named JANET. “Our connectivity to Slough is quite important if we are running a remote data centre. JANET has extremely high capacity because that is demanded by the world-class researchers that use the JANET network,” said Loughborough University IT director Phil Richards, Ph.D.

“Logicalis’ data centre is now connected directly into JANET and Loughborough is upgrading its own connection into JANET to be a dual 10 Gb dark fibre connection,” he added.

Both the Logicalis and Loughborough data centres rely on the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) data centre platform and servers, along with Cisco Nexus switches. They also use NetApp MetroCluster for disaster recovery and CA Spectrum Assurance and Automation to monitor operations. The university's LAN is based on Cisco Catalyst technology.

Using the hybrid cloud model for unified communications

On the telephony side, the legacy Siemens iSDX telephone system is being replaced with Cisco Unified Communications (UC). Richards says, “We had specific local issues because of the demolition of buildings that contained the iSDX exchanges, and the cost of moving all of that copper trunking meant this was the ideal time to run over a single data network,” said Richards.

The university plans to run UC on the local part of the cloud in the first instance. “We can run Cisco UC on a special version of VMware, which runs on the Cisco UCS blades,” said Richards.

As the UC applications grow, they will share blades in the Logicalis data centre with other Loughborough applications. As a result, no specialized hardware will need to be procured to enable the overall UC launch.

The new UC infrastructure is expected to save 640 metric tonnes a year in carbon emissions. Collaborative tools will enable more flexible use of open plan office space and enable home working. What's more, video services are expected to reduce travel costs and carbon emissions associated with travel.

The RFP process differs for a hybrid cloud model

Usually UK universities follow a traditional Official Journal of the EU (OJEU) tender process, in which they circulate a pre-qualifying questionnaire to providers and then the organisation goes out to tender. But Richards had an idea that his solution would be found in a new technical strategy, so the university went a different route in finding a provider.

“We used a relatively new public sector option called a Competitive Dialogue. After the pre-qualifying questionnaire you then shortlist a number of suppliers and enter a dialogue phase, which in our case was about six months of discussion with the shortlist. Only at the end of that do you issue your final tender.

“At the start we knew conceptually what we wanted to achieve in delivery and applications but we were fairly open minded as to how to go about that,” Richards said. The Competitive Dialogue process gave Loughborough University the time to work out this solution and helped build consensus.

“During the dialogue phase we had people from all over the university taking part in the Competitive Dialogue sessions, including deans of schools and the COO, he said, “The dialogue gave us an opportunity to get buy-in for pursuing an option that nobody imagined at the outset.”

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