ACU reviews data centre strategy

Considers move to cloud, storage upgrade plus new collaboration and security tools

The Australian Catholic University (ACU) is carrying out a reassessment of its data centre strategy which could see it move to rented virtual infrastructure in an effort to free itself of commodity infrastructure and service costs.

The university is also looking at overhauling its disaster recovery (DR) storage and increasing capacity by about 50 per cent in response to increased support costs and growing data volumes.

Moving to cloud-based virtual machines (VMs) and storage had the potential to cut the university’s expenditure on servers, increase scalability and free up its IT staff to focus on providing value and expertise at the application server level, according to Paul Campbell, director information technology at the university.

“We are already quite down the virtualisation path, and it’s going quite well, but we feel we can get greater economies of scale by partnering [on virtual infrastructure],” Campbell said. “We don’t see a lot of value in buying and provisioning servers as it’s something that is fairly commoditised, so we don’t see the need to do that in house.”

Currently the ACU has about 210 Servers across the organisation consisting of 70 physical and 140 virtual with an overall consolidation goal of 20 per cent physical and 80 percent virtual.

If a trial of a cloud-based infrastructure for its Sydney-based DR centre proves successful, the university will look to move its Melbourne-based production data centre to a similar arrangement, Campbell said. As part of the process it will also look to up its DR storage from about 20TB to a new 30TB set-up.

“Creating an internal cloud will position us for the flexibility to move to the external cloud,” he said. “Our data requirements are also growing and the products are at the end of economic life. The storage market has also become a lot more competitive and we think it’s a good time to go to market.”

The university is also working on boosting its staff and student collaboration services with an update to its video-conferencing capabilities and a move toward an ‘e-portfolio’ where students and staff can create and store assignments, research, video, images and sound.

“If a student was going for a job then they pool together those artifacts and then send a link to a potential employer to look at them,” Campbell said. “It also helps staff have a place where they can store the things that need and do for their professional development.

“We also want to link [those artifacts] to our graduate attributes – the characteristics a student will have when they complete their degree- and help them map those pieces of work to those attributes,” he added.

The university is also assessing adopting browser-based security technology following the successful implementation of a anti-spam solution from MessageLabs early this the year.

With the solution the university has gone from about 10-20 spams a day per user to about one per three months, Campbell said. As a result of using the service, IT staff time had been freed up, little or no false positives had occurred, and support costs have been reduced.

The university has also improved communications with its South Asia-based student recruitment agents who were previously being blacklisted due to operating on an ISP which was known to also host spammers.

Internet downloads for the six months from January to June 2008 were 37TB prior to implementing the solution. And for January to June 2009, after implementation, downloads hit 26TB despite student numbers growing by around 15 per cent, Campbell said.

“We avoid receiving 350,000 spam emails per month and 7,000 email viruses per month [so] this reduces our growth in storage needs, reduces our internet charges and frees up our internet pipes,” he said.

In other data centre news, it was announced this week that three tier 3+ facilities, which could potentially cost over $100 million per data centre and could create up to 600 jobs, may be built by a joint venture in Melbourne, Sydney and Wollongong.

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