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After more than a decade of housing its IT kit in an IBM datacentre, and with just under a year still to run on that contract, Middlesex University is moving its hardware out of – and moving some of it into – the cloud.
For Paula Vickers, the university’s director of computing and communications systems service, this is the latest part in an on-going push by the higher education facility’s IT department to become better at responding to the organisation’s business needs.
The university originally turned to Big Blue in 2002 to fulfil its hosted datacentre needs, which – as Vickers explains – essentially saw the organisation move its infrastructure into an IBM facility.
Seven years later, this contract was renewed and extended, resulting in IBM assuming responsibility for maintaining its hardware, but with this deal due to end in September 2016, the university decided to seize on this opportunity to do something a little bit different.
“What we learned [over the course of this deal] is that we don’t want to own hardware. We want to free ourselves from that mundane routine of maintenance and monitoring of systems, and be more agile in our response to the university’s business needs,” says Vickers.
“When you own the hardware, you can get two to three years down the line into a contract and you start to realise you need more space, more servers, more capacity, or something might have entered end of life, and then you’re left trying to plug new parts into old hardware.”
While the university does favour a cloud-first approach to new technology deployments, there are still core parts of its infrastructure that make better sense to keep on-premise. To this end, the organisation is adopting a hybrid IT strategy.
“We just wanted to be freed up from that obligation, and cut ourselves a bit of someone else’s cloud so we can grow and shrink as we need to,” says Vickers.
To achieve this, the university has struck a deal with Exponential-e that will see it move all its systems into the networking supplier’s datacentres, while providing it with access to additional compute in the cloud via a 100gigE network connection.
“It is going to be a major migration project,” Vickers explains, "in that we have to move every single system the university relies on into a different datacentre by July 2016 and then decommission the environment because we own that hardware."
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Using cloud for business agility
For Vickers and her team, once this move is done, it will mean less time spent worrying about the health of its datacentre resources, and bring an end to trying to second-guess how the IT needs of the organisation are likely to be years into the future.
“One of the problems we’ve had, because we own the hardware, is we have to effectively guess at the point of purchase what our capacity is likely to be,” she says.
“We’re finding we’re outgrowing our capacity and our machine environments, so this ability to add additional CPU, memory and storage to existing workloads isn’t something we currently have.
“So what this allows us to do is get flexible with the workloads we have and be responsive to new projects as they arrive,” Vickers continues.
Paula Vickers, Middlesex University
This is because the move to Exponential-e’s datacentre means the IT department will be better placed to adopt a more DevOps-friendly way of working, for example, and can support the university’s faculties by self-provisioning their own infrastructure.
“What this project is really doing is laying the foundations not only for us to do more interesting things with our systems, but also for us to become a slightly different IT service. With greater emphasis on business agility,” says Vickers.
“So much of what our business does these days is facilitated by IT and if what I do isn’t helping them, they’re going to say, ‘We need a different IT service or no IT service’. It’s partly self-preservation, but it’s also very much a response to how the business is changing.”
The deal should also ensure, Vickers adds, the university’s 40,000 students – which include both on-campus and distance learners – should enjoy a more consistent and reliable IT user experience overall.
“The university is in an urban area, and we suffer brownouts or we might have a planned outage because of building works on campus, which means taking our systems up and down throughout the year quite frequently,” she explains.
“So, if I’m able to move [the IT infrastructure] somewhere that is better protected from those brownouts, it’s a better service to our users, who might be studying in Dubai, Mauritius or Malta, or just at home.
“If they are not reliant on the campus network, because there is a direct line into the datacentre, then they get all of the resilience and protection that datacentre can offer without it being compromised by whatever is happening in the Hendon area,” Vickers concludes.