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Despair to Normality: University’s journey to operational integrity in the data centre

Established in 1897, Victoria University has over 2,700 employees and a student body of more than 20,000. Victoria is a leading research university and offers almost 1,700 courses across 27 schools in six faculties. The University’s main campus is located in Kelburn in central Wellington, with satellite sites in Rutherford House, Wellington Railway Station West Wing, Government Buildings Historic Reserve, Vivian Street and Karori.

Company

Victoria University

Sector

Education

Location

Wellington, New Zealand

 

Icon Eye

challenge

Support 24 x 7 systems availability requirements of local and international students

Solution

APC InfraStruXure, data centre architecture integrating power, rack, environmental monitoring, management and services.

Benefit

Visibility and control of physical infrastructure including power, cooling, environmental (temperature, humidity, smoke, leaks) and physical security.

Significantly increased system availability via power redundancy and improved cooling efficiency.

Flexibility to cater for future growth and changes.

The central data centre is located in the Kelburn campus and supports the university’s Information Technology (IT) applications including Microsoft Office and Exchange, Blackboard e-learning suite, Researchmaster, human resources and financial systems, student administration packages and building security.

The applications are run primarily on Dell hardware across 150 Win servers and 40 Unix servers, housed within 44 racks. The infrastructure supports 4000 student and staff PCs. The university’s network runs on a gigabit Cisco backbone with a private ATM network to the metropolitan sites utilising City Link dark fibre.

The impact of downtime to Victoria University would be significant, resulting in students being unable to study, online enrolment and classroom systems being unavailable and the university’s substantial administration functions being disabled. Other crucial applications affected would be the payroll system and building security systems.

Wake-up call leads to review of physical infrastructure systems

On April 13, 2005 the Wellington CBD suffered a three and a half hour power blackout. As a result, the university’s IT systems were unavailable for the entire duration of the blackout. Not surprisingly Victoria University’s Senior Management Team called for a complete review of the physical infrastructure systems in place.

The original facility had been built in 1991 and through this review process, the University discovered that the physical infrastructure was no longer adequately supporting the IT systems. “It lacked scalability” says Phil Mansford – the University’s IT Operations Manager, “and hadn’t kept pace as the university had expanded. There hadn’t been any electrical or environmental standards in place leading to unsafe daisy-chaining of power boards and a mess of cabling spaghetti”.

“Air-conditioning in the room had become inadequate as more equipment was added to the room over time, but capacity of the cooling unit couldn’t be increased to support the new systems”.

We now have a best of breed data centre that can fully support the high service levels required by the business

The data centre was also starting to run out of redundant power capacity. “The uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) should theoretically have provided 20 minutes runtime to allow graceful shutdown of applications. In reality, with many dual-powered pieces of equipment, the UPS were oversubscribed with more equipment attached than their capacity could handle”

Compounding these issues was a lack of environmental monitoring which meant that operational staff were unable to view the status of cooling and power systems, temperature and humidity in this environment. This meant that he and his team were only alerted to environmental issues after they had impacted services.

Overall, through reviewing the existing infrastructure, three key areas were identified to address in overhauling the facility. “First was to implement physical infrastructure that was manageable and could provide the 24 x 7 availability now demanded by the business. Second was to implement physical infrastructure that was scalable and flexible and could support future expansion and changes. Finally, we needed to improve the tidiness and working environment of the room for our staff”.

Manageable and integrated physical infrastructure solution

After a review of the options available to meet these physical infrastructure requirements, the university decided that an 80kW APC InfraStruXure system with N+1 redundancy was the best solution. InfraStruXure is an integrated solution which includes racking, uninterrupted power, power distribution and cooling, plus environmental and security monitoring. All of these components are IP-enabled and therefore manageable across the network allowing full visibility and control of the entire environment.

“The (APC InfraStruXure) management tool allows central management of the full physical infrastructure layer. With monitoring of power and environmental conditions in individual racks, we can now do pro-active capacity planning across the entire infrastructure”, says Mansford. “We also know about any problems long before service is impacted, which is good for us and good for the business”.

The University deployed two additional battery frames and a Genset to provide eight hours runtime in case of an extended power cut and phase-adjustable distribution breakers for load-balancing. Overhead cable trays mean that data and power cabling is separated, eliminating electro-magnetic interference, and cooling efficiency is improved.

“Overhead cabling also means that the under-floor area is kept purely for cool air distribution, which greatly increases the efficiency of our cooling”, says Mansford.

The system also incorporates seismic bracing, important for the geologically volatile Wellington area. The University has also implemented fire protection in the form of a VESDA and Inergen fire retardant gas.

Mansford notes that there have been many other benefits resulting from the infrastructure overhaul. Site security is improved via the APC NetBotz security surveillance system; the infrastructure is flexible and can cater for any future changes or growth; cable management means that the data centre is tidy and easy to manage; and a purpose built staging and testing facility increases service quality.

Project management was a key component of the implementation, which resulted in minimal scheduled downtime was required for the deployment. “The installation was well planned and implemented. The project was completed on time and the Project Manager added real value to the whole process”.

The University is very pleased with the results of the infrastructure upgrade but is not resting on its laurels. Future plans include standardisation of physical infrastructure systems across all university sites, integrating the management of remote sites into the central management tool.

“In the future, we hope to replicate the high levels of availability and flexibility in our central data centre, across all of our sites and be able to monitor and manage the entire infrastructure centrally” said Mansford.

 

 
 
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