Budget cuts in education create major challenges for IT departments trying to provide the technology needed for a 21st century curriculum. IT administrators at Leicester College in the United Kingdom needed to find creative ways to do more with less. By virtualising its IT infrastructure, the college now has a cost-effective, stable environment that meets the current needs of students and staff, and will easily expand to fit future demands. Its relationship with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Dimension Data, which is part of the Microsoft Services Ready Programme, further enhanced savings by speeding up deployment and ensuring that the solution addressed the school’s specific needs.
With 26,000 students, Leicester College is one of the largest colleges of further education in England. Located in Leicester, it offers a range of vocational and academic courses including higher education. In addition to its three main campuses, students can attend classes at 200 other venues including churches, halls, and community centres.
Vocational training in the workplace is an example of one of the college’s innovative approaches to education. Paul Chapman, Head of Libraries and E-Strategy at Leicester College, says: “This provides more flexible learning. Many of our students learn without coming to the college campuses. Some of our staff may only come to campus once every two weeks, and access our systems with
||“By virtualising servers, we’ve cut their cost by 50 per cent, and that’s not including the staff time we’ve saved with easier-to-manage machines.”
Head of Libraries and E-Strategy
mobile broadband-equipped laptops. Some teach at remote locations, while others spend much of their time in the field using digital cameras to record what students are doing in vocational courses, such as cookery.”
In addition to providing desktop systems to more than 3,000 computers, the college hosts a virtual learning environment (VLE) offering anytime, anywhere access to resources. For example, the library system for all three of the college’s libraries is linked to the VLE. Students can log on to check the status of books they have borrowed and can access electronic resources, such as digital publications and e-books. “We serve a diverse community that needs access to the system at different times of the day or night,” says Chapman.
Until recently, the college’s systems were housed on 100 servers at its main campus, but the IT team was running out of space in its server centre. IT staff members spent much of their time maintaining the existing hardware that used a large amount of electricity to run and cool. “We do quite a lot with our technology but we wanted to be more efficient,” says Chapman. “If we continued adding servers every time we wanted to offer a new service, we would have run out of space. Plus, our air conditioning system was inadequate and a new one would have been beyond our budget. Colleges don’t get as much funding as schools and universities, so we had to figure out a way to do more for less.”
Chapman realised that to create a sustainable IT infrastructure that would grow with the college’s needs, he had to replace physical servers with virtual dedicated servers. In 2007, he and his team ran a virtualisation pilot project on VMware. The project revealed that the technology would not be sustainable across the college’s large estate. He says: “Licensing costs would have been astronomical, as would the need to train system administrators on the new technology.
“Our IT team is very small for an organisation of our size but it manages all the servers and the network infrastructure, including disaster recovery. A small helpdesk team also supports the users for 3,000 computers. We needed to find a solution that we could manage without having to hire new team members.”Solution
Chapman turned to Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Dimension Data. The company recommended using the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system with Hyper-V technology to virtualise the college’s server estate and create an integrated infrastructure. Adrian Ansell, Unified Communications and Collaboration Practice Manager at Dimension Data, says: “Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V is a robust solution. And, unlike competing technology such as VMware, it integrates seamlessly with the Microsoft technology the college uses.”
As one of the first Microsoft partners to participate in the Microsoft Services Ready Programme, Dimension Data was able to access information developed by subject-matter experts at Microsoft Services to design the architecture Leicester College needed. Using customised Microsoft Solution Accelerators—tools and guidance for planning and deployment—Dimension Data recommended a solution including:
In March 2009, Dimension Data provided a proof of concept using the Services Ready methodology to determine the college’s needs. “The programme gave us the confidence we needed to start scoping the first part of our project—virtualising our server estate,” says Chapman.
||“Whenever administrators or teaching staff need a new system, it’s easy to set up a virtual machine. IT staff can load the software, run it, test it, and move it into the production environment in a matter of weeks. This is a huge improvement on the months it used to take us.”
Head of Libraries and E-Strategy
The college had a small window of time to upgrade the system during the summer break, before enrolment started for the new term. The infrastructure was developed and deployed within six weeks, including Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, which was implemented in 12 days. “The whole project was seamless, with no down time. It was planned meticulously,” says Chapman.
Dimension Data consultants worked side-by-side with Leicester College IT staff, providing them with the knowledge needed to maintain the system and virtualise the servers. Chapman’s team virtualised 20 servers running vital applications such as the library system in just three months. In the months following, 18 additional servers were virtualised. Chapman says: “We could not have implemented the virtualisation project so quickly without the help of Dimension Data.” Benefits
Leicester College provides many services for a large base of users. By partnering with Dimension Data, the college was able to benefit from the Microsoft Services Ready Programme, which provides the same methodologies and documentation that Microsoft uses. This helped the college deploy the best possible solution from design, through to implementation, providing users with a more efficient, flexible infrastructure.
Virtualisation Cuts Cost of Servers by 50 Per Cent
“Cost is extremely important in the education sector, where we deal with financial pressures linked to funding,” says Chapman. “By virtualising servers, we’ve cut their cost by 50 per cent, and that’s not including the staff time we’ve also saved with easier-to-manage machines.” Chapman also anticipates an 18 per cent cut in power needed to run and cool the servers, adding further savings.
Eco-Efficient System Supports the Green Agenda
Leicester College has scaled back the power needed to run its servers and no longer needs to upgrade the air conditioning system in its server rooms. This will not only contribute to a reduction in overheads, but will also help significantly reduce the school’s carbon footprint in line with its environmental strategy.
More Robust Systems Provide Better Services to Users
“Whenever administrators or teaching staff need a new system, it’s easy to set up a virtual machine. IT staff can load the software, run it, test it, and move it into the production environment in a matter of weeks,” says Chapman. “This is a huge improvement on the months it used to take us.”
End users see more robust systems. Their profiles load faster as they move to different computers around the campus, while IT staff members benefit from a more robust technical environment in which to work.
Staff Can Spend More Time with Learners
A quicker, more efficient system cuts down administrative tasks. Staff members who go out in the field to assess students doing work-based learning can now log on to the school’s system from any location. “The new solution is far more efficient,” says Chapman. “Before, users had to handle a lot of paperwork, printing paper reports at home and bringing them into college every two weeks. Now they can submit reports, including videos, online from any off-campus location. As a result, they can spend more time with the learners and less time on administrative work.”
Virtualisation Provides Greater Capacity for Growth
The switch room is no longer overcrowded, providing plenty of space for the college to scale its infrastructure in line with future needs and new technology releases.
In addition to providing services to its own students and staff, Leicester College now has the capacity to explore the option of becoming a shared IT services provider for other educational institutions. “If we were to explore the option of becoming a shared IT services provider, we would want to work with a partner such as Dimension Data,” says Chapman. “Its high-end technical expertise complements our niche market understanding. It could be an excellent public–private partnership.”Microsoft Services
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www.microsoft.com/microsoftservices This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY. Microsoft is either a registered trademark or trademark of the Microsoft group of companies.Document published April 2010