With around 23,500 students from 80 countries, Birmingham City University (BCU) is a large and diverse place to study. Its focus on practical skills and professional relevance is producing some of the country’s most employable graduates: the Sunday Times University Guide 2013 ranks BCU in the UK top 30 for the proportion of students entering graduate-level jobs. The University is currently investing £180 million in its estate to provide students with an enviable range of facilities.
Birmingham City University remains one of the most popular universities in the UK. In response to this student demand the University’s IT team, instigated a review of existing IT systems and processes in relation to the university’s IT strategy.
Shaun Buffery, Associate Director for Converged Infrastructure at the University and Dean England, Converged Infrastructure Architect Servers & Storage, led the assessment, combining both server/storage and networking backgrounds to address the needs of the University and converge the two key areas to provide an enhanced single solution.
Buffery commented, “Having students placed at the heart of university funding has dramatically changed their expectations of Higher Education. Today, we compete not just on the quality of education, but the quality of our facilities and services – providing the best service possible across the board is essential to the complete student experience.
“A subsequent review of existing IT infrastructure highlighted years of patchwork product upgrades, with little synchronisation across the network, not to mention issues with latency. Moreover, the data centre was desperately short of capacity, and the majority of our hardware was nearing end of life. In short, our IT infrastructure was not fit for purpose.”
Following the review, the university put out to tender the refresh of its core IT network infrastructure, data centre, and telephony. An ambitious project, Birmingham City University was keen to establish a level playing field and strong IT core.
“Rather than specify the technologies we needed, we placed our business objectives at the heart of the tender,” said Buffery. “We needed a partner that understood the pressures facing Higher Education establishments, that would design and implement a foundation that adapts to changes in the technologies and resources students expect to use and which enables staff to better collaborate with students.”
Following a competitive tender, Logicalis UK was awarded the full contract. Inclusive of this is the design, installation and project management of four key areas:
- Design and fitting out of two on-site data centres
- Installation of a resilient, highly virtualised and consolidated architecture and VMware data solution
- Upgrade of the campus network, wired and wireless
- Roll-out of Cisco Unified Communications Manager to 4000 users
Early on in the tender process, the team recognised synergies between Logicalis and Birmingham City University, “A process of dialogue quickly established Logicalis as a leading contender.” Said Buffery. “ As well as solid practical experience, they not only understood the foibles and challenges Higher Education establishments face, but also able to point out pressures our network infrastructure will face several years down the line. We were singing from the same hymn sheet!”
Beginning phase one and two in early 2012, Logicalis has since completed the implementation of Birmingham City University’s core network refresh and the last of BCU’s twin data centres is going live in Autumn. Dean England, led the re-design and implementation of the two new data centres. He commented:
“The patchwork nature of our previous data centre meant a huge amount of time was wasted simply managing different management platforms. Now, with a reference data centre architecture, the IT team is not only able to work more efficiently day-to-day, but our data centre is too. We’ve reduced server sprawl, increased utilisation, and are already able to identify savings in energy expenditure.”
The revised data centres have also impacted Birmingham City University’s disaster recovery strategy; new back-up and de-dupe functionality, coupled with a refreshed campus network, is enabling a more effective and resilient storage and archive policy.
The network refresh saw the implementation of a 10GbE wired and wireless LAN for students and staff. The network now has the bandwidth to support growing demand from mobile devices, as well as the performance to enable real time applications such as voice, video and rich media applications.
The ability to adapt to changing technology use, particularly at student level, is especially important to England; “How students consume information is continually evolving and we have to keep pace. Today, this means providing fast and secure access to e-learning tools and resources, from anywhere and any device. Tomorrow, they’ll probably be writing their own applications to aid the education process. We’re confident our network can adapt.”
The final phase of the project, the rollout of Cisco’s Unified Communications Manager to 4000 users, is due for completion late 2013.
The benefits to Birmingham City University from a converged, synchronised IT foundation will greatly impact the IT team and the organisation overall.
Alongside significant improvements in network speed, performance and capacity, the IT team is freed from excessive maintenance requirements; by implementing a reference data centre architecture and applying simple integration techniques, the resource burden and operational cost of maintenance has been dramatically reduced.
Birmingham City University also anticipates seeing RoI from the Cisco UC solution in just a few years time; “Providing staff with the tools to do their job enables them to deliver a better service to students.” Buffery continued. “A converged telephony solution will allow staff to become more independent, it gives them greater opportunity to engage with students via multiple, intuitive channels and manage admin tasks on the move. This means less time tied to their offices and more time face-to-face with our students.”
He concludes, “For BCU, ensuring students have the facilities to learn, and that staff are better equipped to teach is half the battle. The other half is having the ability to adapt to new practices and trends in Higher Education – working with young people, this means changing at a breakneck speed.
“Logicalis has provided us with a foundation that will mould with our needs and help the University achieve its mission to provide a business-class learning experience for its students, now and in the future. Logicalis has clearly established itself as our partner in this journey.”