The solution: In a single day, from on-premises to the cloud – and back again
In the fall of 2019, it was already time for the first round of maintenance of the new building’s power supply – after five years, as legally required for all new public buildings in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. “We hadn’t ever rehearsed that kind of scenario before,” Mohren recalls. “Getting our power from a backup generator was not an option, as the power lines had to be dead; in other words, all systems had to be shut down completely. To solve this problem, Campus IT Services relied very strongly on the cloud.”
November 1, 2019 was chosen as the date for the maintenance work – a public holiday that fell on a Friday, with enough time to respond to issues over the weekend, so that the services would be back online on the Monday at the latest. Initial preparations began in late summer. As before with the move to a new campus, efficient communication was a particular priority for Mohren. His team set up its own website in Azure, with the aim of keeping people informed about the current status while the power was down. For the staff of HSD, their own Office 365 email address was created, which could be used independently of the local data center. And the shutdown of the systems was coordinated via Microsoft Teams, which was provided on tablet computers with LTE cards. “Before the power shutdown, the DNS entry hs-duesseldorf.de was switched over to our domain in Azure, so that the site no longer ran on our servers, but directly on Azure. My team then spread out over the two data centers and communicated via Microsoft Teams while switching off the systems.”
They started out with non-critical systems such as backup and recovery, before moving on to communication-relevant components like Skype and Exchange. At the very end, they switched off the building management system and the power supply for the network and the local data centers. The maintenance work ran from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. As soon as it finished, Mohren and his team began getting the systems up and running again.
“Most services were already back up again by evening. In the end, we didn’t need the buffer we’d given ourselves with the weekend,” Mohren says. Following a load test on Monday, the website’s DNS entry was switched back, and the local data centers and all services were available again as normal. “I was really impressed by how reliable cloud operation is. When we run Exchange or Skype locally, we always have something to do – there are regular updates and patches that we have to install, and then we check the interfaces. So on-premises is in fact considerably more time-consuming than the cloud.”
Campus IT Services garnered a lot of praise for its calm and level-headed management during the power shutdown. And the positive experience with Microsoft Azure is inspiring Mohren to do more: “It would be clever to actually run services in the cloud that we want to deliver with a high degree of reliability. With my staff of just under 30, I can’t guarantee 24/7 operation – but the requirements of users are 24/7. The cloud would meet these needs.”
Due to current developments regarding Covid-19, Henning Mohren was able to technically implement his second pilot project even more extensively than initially planned. To ensure that the entire university remains viable, the decision was made to roll out Office 365 and Microsoft Teams to the entire university. "The current situation simply required us to turn a pilot project that only included a handful of professors into a holistic solution," says Henning Mohren. "The entire university management reacted really quickly." The full integration of Azure Active Directory offers an optimal solution due to the multi-stage authentication process and the targeted control of access rights – independent of location, simple and, above all, compliant with data protection. This means that everyone at the university without any exception can use Office 365 with Microsoft Teams – from students and professors to administrative staff. And, of course, Henning Mohren's team in IT too, so that they can stay connected with each other even in these times.