Curtin University deploys Vblock, hosted learning management system

Step one on the road to its own private Cloud. Will allow consolidation of hundreds of servers

Curtin University has placed the capstone on two major ICT projects, migrating to a managed version of its learning platform, Blackboard, and firing up its new Vblock infrastructure from EMC, VMware and Cisco.

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According to the university’s CIO, Peter Nikoletatos, both projects were in response to changes in the way students were approaching, and ultimately demanding, the delivery of education.

The university has hosted Blackboard on-premise for about 10 years, but the need to conduct regular maintenance resulted in periods of unavailability for students — something increasingly incompatible with student needs and expectations.

“Like most universities we have been dealing with the problem of how to become more balanced with online learning and reliant on our learning management system,” Nikoletatos said.

“Our students rely on it for a lot of lecture materials, program outlines and those types of things, so we have worked with Blackboard on a managed hosted environment approach to increase our resilience.”

In addition to 365 days a year availability, students would also benefit from more rapid upgrades to newer versions of Blackboard as they became available, Nikoletatos said.

The increased focus on online applications will also feed Curtin’s private Cloud strategy, which involves a server consolidation initiative, data centre upgrade and purchase of a Vblock 1 platform — a combination of integrated computing, network, storage, and management capabilities from VMware, Cisco, and EMC under the companies' Virtual Compute Environment (VCE) joint venture.

The Vblock will provide in four rack’s worth of space the computing power previously provided by 20 racks’ worth of machines, according to Nikoletatos.

“Hundreds” of servers will be consolidated in coming months, partly via the non-renewal of machines currently under lease.

“[Vblock] will be the centre piece for consolidating our virtual computing environment and we think we will be able to move away from the traditional server approach to a one containered virtual computing device,” he said.

“Our view is that data centres will eventually be managed by third parties and this is in preparation to moving to a new sourcing strategy in the fullness of time.”

Curtin presently has two data centres — one each for production and disaster recovery/backup — and plans to reduce this to one production data centre by the end of 2011.

Backups and archives will happen off-site under a transitional data centre model, with its production data centre eventually being outsourced under a utility computing model within two years.

The move to Vblock would also reduce Curtin’s carbon footprint, increase the university’s virtualisation layer, and let it be more agile in how the university provisioned virtual machines for application deployment, Nikoletatos said.

“It will also let us move to the private Cloud now, not in the fullness of time; now,” he said. “It is step one of our private Cloud strategy.”

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