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Education authority flourishes with Microsoft virtual platform

Published: June 2010

Like a lot of local government organisations, County Cavan Vocational Education Committee was looking to do more with less. It achieved its goal through the strategic deployment of a virtualised platform and a suite of Microsoft solutions that fulfilled its role in providing agile IT services to schools and other learning institutions

Situation

Located in County Cavan in the north of the Irish Republic, County Cavan Vocational Education Committee (VEC) is a local statutory education and training authority responsible for the direct management of four secondary schools. It also co-ordinates learning programmes in a higher education institute, vocational training and prison education.

When the VEC moved to more modern premises in the county town of Cavan, it provided IT Manager John McCabe with an opportunity to refresh the technology and improve the infrastructure. A key part of the strategy was to move to a single domain model, serving the diverse educational needs of the four schools and other sites from a centralised IT infrastructure, run out of the Cavan head office over a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

This would remove the risks of a fragmented environment where different domains and dispersed IT infrastructure were proving inefficient and difficult to manage. “Warranties were coming to an end; we only had a single server in the head office and we were running out of capacity,” explained John McCabe, IT Administrator. “It was time for a change and virtualisation was the obvious way to go.”
 
The plan was to introduce a single instance of key applications, hosted and managed in the head office. They would run on virtual machines that would facilitate a more robust and resilient infrastructure with a strong disaster recovery plan. The challenge was achieving this goal with a modest budget and limited resources.

Solution

After a consultation with Dell in its capacity as a Microsoft Gold Partner, disparate applications and services were migrated to a virtualised Microsoft cluster on two Dell servers in the Cavan head office. The core of the platform is Microsoft software with Microsoft Active Directory used to administer the infrastructure as a single domain.
Microsoft Exchange 2010 is the group communications solution, providing a secure and highly available platform for e-mail, voice mail and instant messaging. Microsoft SharePoint 2007 gives each school a portal for publishing and sharing content while Microsoft SQL Server 2005 provides integrated management of all of Cavan VEC’s data.
The virtualisation platform was built on Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V with System Center Virtual Machine Manager2008 R2 used to manage and optimise the environment. Each school has its own server running Hyper-V which connects back into the head office over a secure VPN tunnel. Microsoft File and Print Server is run locally, along with some file storage and a domain controller.
The rest of the applications are accessed from the head office. Microsoft Forefront Protection 2010 provides a gateway with identity management controls that allow students and Cavan VEC staff to log in, safely and securely. Data Protection Manager 2010, part of the Microsoft System Center family of management products, delivers the data protection for the Windows servers as well as the user’s desktops and laptops.
Back in the head office, 10 virtual machines host all the applications. Inherent to the solution is high availability, with seamless failover in the event of any outage, and the ability to provision new virtual servers in minutes. Live Migration is a feature that allows the migration of virtual machines even as they are running, making it possible to carry out maintenance work with no impact on the end users.  
The flexibility of the virtual environment extended to disaster recovery. Because the communications room was now publishing services out to 400 people across the schools, the platform needed more redundancy. A nearby institute is now used as a disaster recovery site. Using a 100MBps VPN, the virtualised images are “fired down” to the offsite location at the end of every day. 
And because Cavan VEC was able to avail of Microsoft Academic Open Licence, a volume licensing programme for educational establishments, it was able to carry out the infrastructure upgrade and invest in cutting-edge technology on a tight budget.

Benefits

Cavan VEC has deployed a state-of-the art infrastructure that gives the IT department centralised control over a dispersed environment. The solution was facilitated by a suite of Microsoft products with Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V providing the bedrock, a virtualised platform that delivers a number of key benefits.
The new environment provides high availability, increased resilience and greater stability but is also empowers IT Administrator John McCabe. “The beauty of the virtualised platform is that if a physical server goes down, the virtual machine can be quickly restored with no interruption to the service,” he said.

Routine maintenance has also become more effective. “The cluster is brilliant. If you wanted to add RAM to the old system you would have to shut down a physical server and do it in the evening. You couldn’t perform any server maintenance without knocking out everybody that was using it,” McCabe explains. “Now I can do it with no interruption. And it’s much easier to commission a new server. Before, we would have had to buy another physical box.”

Virtualisation has allowed John McCabe to do more with less, and put in place a disaster recovery plan. Costs have been reduced; productivity increased. A more agile environment not only facilitates better day-to-day management but also provides a platform for rolling out new applications and services and continually optimising the environment for the end users.

Summary

Cavan VEC shows what can be achieved with a modest budget, according to Kieran Fitzgerald, Microsoft Solutions Architect at Dell. “From a position where there was barely any infrastructure and overreliance on a single server, they have virtualised to a state-of-the-art, centralised environment,” he said.
By utilising the full capability of Microsoft solutions, which ranged from virtualisation and infrastructure management tools to communication and collaboration software, Cavan VEC was able to simplify a potentially complex IT environment to deliver maximum benefits with minimum hassle.

 

Solution Overview

Organisation
Cavan VEC

Certified Partners
Dell Computer Corporation, a Microsoft Gold partner

Customer Profile
A local statutory education and training authority responsible for the direct management of four secondary schools and other learning programmes

Industry
Public sector, education

Business Situation
A fragmented environment with poor infrastructure and end-of-life warranties was struggling to deliver IT services to the local education sector

Solution Description
A centralised platform with a single instance of core applications runs on a virtualised environment that uses a suite of Microsoft software

Benefits
- Consolidation to a centralised infrastructure  
- High availability and business continuity
- Ease of management and server deployment
- More cost-effective to run and easier to manage

Microsoft Software

  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V
  • Microsoft Exchange 2010
  • Microsoft SharePoint 2007
  • Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager2008
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005
  • Microsoft Forefront Protection 2010
  • Country/Region
    Ireland


    For More Information

    About Microsoft in Ireland:
    The Irish Sales, Services and Marketing Operation of Microsoft was established in 1991. The full-time team market all Microsoft products and services in the island of Ireland, targeting customers both North and South. The team services customers across all segments including enterprise, small and medium sized businesses and home computer users. In addition to developing desktop products, Microsoft provides tailored consultancy services and solutions to suit enterprise businesses. Microsoft is continuing to concentrate on its relationship with the Irish enterprise market - the top 100 companies in the island of Ireland. Enterprise customers of Microsoft include the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Civil Service Commission, Dublin.
    For more information on Microsoft’s products and solutions, please visit www.microsoft.com/ireland

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