Oct 16 2013
Data Center

Colleges Improve Service Delivery with Unified Computing

University IT pros say integrated infrastructure boosts performance and uptime.

Michael Somerville, cloud evangelist and manager of systems support for the University of San Diego, doesn’t want to go back to the days before the university deployed a unified computing platform.

USD runs VCE’s Vblock system, which consists of VMware server virtualization, Cisco Systems’ Unified Computing System servers and switches, and EMC storage.

Somerville says the Vblock system has made a major difference in the way the university can roll up applications and deliver services. Where it once took several months to implement infrastructure, it now can be done in a matter of days.

The added compute power from the virtual infrastructure also dramatically improves system uptime and overall application performance. “The feedback from students and faculty on the enhanced performance of various applications continues to be positive,” says Somerville.

Christopher W. Wessells, vice provost and CIO, adds that the “technology is a reflection of an intentional effort to move from providing ‘good services’ to ‘great services’ to the USD community.”

Students can now register for classes at any time of day, and the university also obtains better performance from the system that manages residence halls. Typically, students wait until the last day to sign up for a dorm for the following semester, Somerville explains. The new infrastructure provides the computing resources to handle the last-minute rush. “That system has to be up and working at peak times, and now it is,” he says.

The deployment also improved the performance of core business applications. It experiences little or no downtime on Microsoft Exchange; in addition, all the university’s documents are virtualized and easily accessed by students, faculty and staff.

Somerville also appreciates having a single support number. “If I need to upgrade, I can call one 800 number and the customer service person has a complete list of the servers, storage and switches that I own,” he notes.

Mark Bowker, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says the University of San Diego’s deployment of what ESG calls an integrated computing platform makes sense. “It gives them the ability to roll out applications much faster and not worry about the infrastructure,” Bowker says.

The Path to VDI and BYOD

At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, a FlexPod infrastructure delivers the computing resources the university needs to support virtual desktop infrastructure and bring-your-own-device initiatives.


The percentage of 2013 IT budgets allocated to new technology projects and purchases that deliver positive ROI and competitive advantage to the organization

SOURCE: “Market Landscape Reports: Integrated Computing Platforms” (Enterprise Strategy Group, June 2013)

IT Systems Administrator Wojciech Biernacki says the university can now more easily offer expensive math and science programs such as Mathematica, SAS and SPSS at little or no cost.

“All of these programs now reside as a virtual instance on the server,” he says. “We can offer the software on just about any computing platform the students bring to campus.”

The university’s FlexPod infrastructure consists of VMware server virtualization, Cisco Unified Computing System servers and switches, and NetApp storage. For VDI, the university runs a combination of Citrix Systems’ XenDesktop, XenApp and NetScaler.

Biernacki says the Knoxville campus can now roll out new infrastructure and applications in about a day or two. At the College of Business Administration, for example, staff recently provisioned 50 Windows 7 images in under a day. Biernacki says students use the Windows 7 templates to customize and pilot an enterprise resource planning application as part of their coursework.

“It doesn’t seem like much, but the time savings are significant,” Biernacki adds. “In the past, we would have had to spec 50 machines, take them out of the box, create images and connect and configure them to the network,” Biernacki adds. “It would take several weeks.”

Four Advantages of Unified Computing Platforms

Mark Bowker, senior analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group, outlines four primary reasons that integrated infrastructure appeals to IT shops.

  • Improved management. Thanks to tools that automate many common IT tasks, unified computing transitions IT departments from administrators of component infrastructure to managers of holistic systems. That’s a major shift for many IT organizations. This integration helps IT departments reduce overhead, streamline daily operational tasks and improve long-term capacity planning.
  • Accelerated time-to-value. Thanks to the faster deployment of IT infrastructure, VMs and apps, integrated computing platforms get systems online faster and with less effort. IT management has recognized time-to-value as a primary return-on-investment metric for ICPs and uses this metric to help justify investments.
  • Increased user productivity. Faster time-to-market and improved reliability make end users more productive. Employee productivity isn't always easy for IT departments to measure, but Bowker says streamlined app deployment puts software into the hands of users faster.
  • Streamlined service and support. Troubleshooting and root-cause analysis of three separate infrastructure platforms can be time-consuming and a logistical nightmare. A single point of contact for deployment and tech support aids troubleshooting, crisis prevention and IT staff alignment.
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