University of Derby Simplifies IT and Makes Research Self-Service with Nutanix Upgrade
The East Midlands based university has moved from a traditional architecture to a more flexible and automated alternative that lets it focus on transformative projects.
Located in the heart of England and with roots going back to the 1850s, the University of Derby is rated TEF Gold for teaching quality and offers foundation and undergraduate degrees through to postgraduate study and research. In 2020 alone, Derby was named University of the Year at the UK Social Mobility Awards, Higher Education Institution of the Year in the National Education Opportunities Network (Neon) Awards and won the Guardian University Award for Social and Community Impact.
Derby was looking to streamline its IT infrastructure and create a way for researchers on a rail research and innovation project to spin up their own VM workloads, but was struggling with a legacy IT portfolio based on three-tier architecture that was causing performance and manageability issues.
- Excellent manageability from a single pane of glass allowing a lighter administrative load
- Able to manage the infrastructure to support 30,000 students and 3,500 staff with only a few hours of engineer time per week.
- Allows flexible access for all types of users from undergraduates to remote users and researchers
- Easily manages demanding workloads, including a virtual learning environment and student records system
- Supports automated VM and application deployment for self-service research projects
- Strong file-sharing capability
- Improved performance with low latency helping to deliver an improved student learning experience
- Increased security through data-at-rest encryption
- Nutanix clusters across two sites
- Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV) and VMware vSphere
- Nutanix Cloud Services
- Nutanix Files
- Nutanix Calm
- Nutanix Prism
We had an aging infrastructure with legacy storage and blade servers that were leading to performance degradation, troubleshooting challenges and support handoff issues where it was hard to nail down the source of problems. We wanted an approach that was more integrated and that could scale more easily. We also wanted a solution without the admin impact of a multi-vendor approach.- Richard Lock, Principal Infrastructure Engineer, University of Derby
To refresh its IT infrastructure, Derby researched the market and began to narrow down to hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) players. “We looked at other HCIs but Nutanix was the leader in the space and met our needs in terms of features and performance,” said Richard Lock, Principal Infrastructure Engineer at the University of Derby.
As well as renewing the core infrastructure platform used by staff and students, one key requirement was to create a way for researchers to spin up their own VM workloads. A private cloud was required for the Rail Research and Innovation Centre (RRIC) working with businesses in the region, so having a simple, automated approach was hugely valuable.
Derby’s main infrastructure platform across its two main datacentres was revamped to improve the capacity and quality of resource for some 3,500 staff and 30,000 students, across the University’s HE, Online and FE provision. Six engineers now manage all core infrastructure servers, storage and identity systems with Nutanix Prism being used for day-to-day visibility across systems that have replaced legacy three-tier equipment. The Nutanix Calm application management framework is used for research workloads where virtualisation is provided via the AHV hypervisor. File shares have been consolidated on Nutanix Files.
The datacentres have two-way automated failover integrated in the event of an outage or other disaster so operations can continue. Rubrik was used for data protection and archiving to cloud.
Nutanix worked closely with partner solutions provider XMA, especially on the RRIC aspect where Nutanix’s Calm became the console for automating and managing self-service application deployment. It also helped that XMA had worked with Nutanix previously and therefore had a good understanding of the environment.
Derby now enjoys a more streamlined, manageable and performant IT environment. Also, staff are no longer forced to operate on a break/fix basis.
“We have a small IT team and we wanted to focus engineers on improving and aligning with business needs, not just managing infrastructure,” said Lock. “We wanted to improve services and free up time by being more automated. Today, we have one core technology to host and monitor on-premises IT services.”
Derby has a lower administrative overhead and an environment appropriate for its modernisation strategy of using SaaS applications wherever possible and Microsoft Azure as a core cloud platform.
“Feedback from the application infrastructure team was very good,” Lock said. “There’s been a significant improvement in performance for page loads for student records and we’ve got the number of pages taking over three seconds to load down to one per cent. That has a direct impact on user experience.
“Also, the infrastructure team has scope to work on more automation to free up further time and allow us to focus on digital transformation projects such as improving remote learning and lab access for students, and rearchitecting the network to increase security and agility.
For example, enabling life sciences research to monitor aquaria using IoT sensors without sparking security concerns. Also, as with any organisation, the response to Covid would have been much more challenging if the IT team had been diverted into firefighting infrastructure issues.”
Derby is in a good position as it progresses with its hybrid cloud approach. It plans more services in the public cloud, providing greater agility to deliver services for teaching, learning and research.
It is also looking at the possibility of increasing use of Nutanix AHV in the future which would lead to significant licence cost savings. With a streamlined approach to deployment and a robust API available, IT is simpler, more adaptive and more easily manageable, making life better for all.
“We’ve been able to improve performance and disaster recovery for all workloads running on the Nutanix platform and provide users of the private cloud with the ability to deploy their own workloads in a way that is flexible and future-proof. Nobody could have predicted the pandemic, but the platform has allowed us to respond positively,” Lock said.