Birmingham City University overhauls data centre, network and telephony requirements in multimillion-pound refresh

By Sooraj Shah
14 Feb 2014 View Comments
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Birmingham City University (BCU) has overhauled its data centre, network and telephony requirements as part of a £180m investment in new facilities.

The project, which began in 2012, included the design and deployment of two on-premise data centres, fixed and wireless network access for staff and students, and the rollout of Cisco Unified Communications Manager for 4,000 users.

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The university hopes that by refreshing key areas of IT infrastructure at the same time, it can provide the services that students and staff demand.

Shaun Buffery, associate director for converged infrastructure at the university, led the project, which was carried out with Logicalis. He said that the university sees its infrastructure as key to its success.

"Nowadays, you're not only competing on the level of education that students will receive, but also the facilities and services," he said.

"This new infrastructure will not only adapt to innovation in student technology and teaching resources, but also enable staff to be more collaborative with one another and with the students," he added.

Buffery explained that a review of existing IT infrastructure highlighted years of patchwork product upgrades, with little synchronisation across the network and issues with latency. He said that the data centre was desperately short of capacity and that the majority of the hardware was nearing end of life.

"In short, our IT infrastructure was not fit for purpose," he stated.

Following the review, the university went out to tender for a new IT network infrastructure, data centre and telephony.

"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."

Buffery explained that Logicalis UK was selected for the project because of its "solid practical experience" and its ability to understand the challenges higher education establishments face, as well as being able to point out pressures that the university's network infrastructure will face several years down the line.

In early 2012, Logicalis completed the design and fit of two on-site data centres and the installation of a virtualised, consolidated architecture and a VMware data solution.

Dean England, converged infrastructure architect for servers and storage at the university, said that the patchwork nature of its previous data centre meant a huge amount of time was wasted 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," he explained.

England suggested that the ability to adapt to changing technology use within the university was particularly important.

"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," he said.

The final phase of the project was the recently completed installation of the Cisco Unified Communications Manager to support 4,000 administrative and teaching staff. 

"The converged telephony solution will allow staff to become more independent, giving them greater opportunity to engage with students via multiple channels and manage admin tasks on the move – this means less time tied to their office and more time face-to-face with students," said Buffery.

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