Talk about old school: Cambridge University, in Cambridge, England, is the very definition of the term. This is an institution that was founded in 1209, the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s fourth-oldest continually operating university.
It may be venerable, but it is thinking strictly new-generation when it comes to its IT system.
The university is currently in the process of updating an, shall we say, antiquated computer network that was built piecemeal over the last couple of generations—and some of it longer ago than that.
Cambridge’s 120 academic, research and staff departments have about 200 locations that can be considered “server rooms,” housing all the equipment that deliver the services, teaching and learning platforms, research platforms, backup systems and everything else.
Lost Control of IT Power Long Ago
The university had long ago lost control of its IT power management; in fact, it had no IT management, power or otherwise, of which to speak. Everything was in silos, as is common in older organizations.
“We have everything from a rack in a cupboard under the stairs to a space converted from office or research lab, many of which are not very efficient and lead to poor management of the service,” Ian Tasker, IT director for the university, told eWEEK. “Therefore, this meant poor IT energy management for the university as a whole.”
Three years ago, Cambridge decided to do something about its creaky system. Tasker was tasked with finding the right components to put together a unified system that had to have three central functions: be highly available, be energy efficient and be secure.
“Early in 2012 we decided to build the university’s very first purpose-built data center. We were given the target of 25 percent reduction in energy consumption compared to existing facilities,” Tasker said.
Tasker and his team did their due diligence, tested a group of potential solution packages and decided on a relatively new one on the market: Emerson Network Power’s Trellis.
Chose Emerson’s Trellis for DCIM
Trellis is a new-gen data center infrastructure management (DCIM) hardware and software package, first launched in 2012, that one simply plugs in, connects to all the necessary nodes and puts to work. It’s not much more complicated than that.
Trellis offers complete control of—and real-time visibility into—a data center’s daily workload production, both physical and virtual, necessary for an enterprise to accomplish these three goals: a) manage the workloads with speed and efficiency, b) keep the content secure at all times and c) do it all using less power from the walls.
Trellis’ lineage can be traced both to its Avocent software origins and Emerson’s long experience in physical data center and power backup systems, going back several decades.
Cambridge: Where Old School Literally Goes New-Gen in IT
What were the main criteria the Cambridge team had when making a decision on which way to go?
“What I wanted was a single pane of glass,” Tasker said. “I wanted to bring everything I have into managing my whole environment. I wanted all the environmental controls, the power reporting and all the general facilities performance. I wanted everything to come together into one place.
“The tools that came with Trellis were the only ones that fit that total bill.”
Covers a Range of Server Platforms
The new environment had to cover a whole different range of server platforms. “They ranged from supercomputers for research right down to a single server, where someone could run a little database on it. And we had to come up with a system that would satisfy both of those requirements,” Tasker said.
“We had to find out which equipment was best, and how to actually monitor and measure both the physical and the digital, and therefore we looked for tech partners in this process. One of the key partners we selected for a number of the features was Emerson Network Power,” he said.
“They had provided us with our efficient UPS [uninterrupted power system]; we went for their Trinity for UPS power transmission, and they also provided us with backup generators. But in order to really achieve the benefits that we were looking for, the big thing we needed were the monitoring tools and actual controls on the overall facility. For that, we needed something that was going to be flexible, adaptable, and something that could grow with us.”
Since construction started last year, Cambridge is now well on the way to completing its data center, with about 20 percent of the new system now online. By later this year, about 60 to 70 percent of the system will be refreshed, Tasker said.
Old Servers Still Working—For Now
The new system still contains some of the older servers that are working well enough: There are servers from Sun Microsystems, IBM, Dell, HP—even DEC—in use. Trellis, software-agnostic as it is, can connect all those dots, old and new.
“We don’t expect to move all departments into the new data center in one big hit, so it’s going to be a fairly steady migration of services across, and therefore something that’s going to be scalable and look to our future needs, rather than just what we have today,” Tasker said.
Tasker said he expects a 40 percent power efficiency gain when all the older, less-power-efficient servers live out their days and are replaced. Spread out over the whole university, that’s going to mean a yearly power bill savings in the neighborhood of $2 million to $3 million (about $1.75 million to $2.6 million euros).
Old-school or new-school, that’s clearly good return on investment.