Going Beyond Virtualisation: Coventry University

How Coventry University modernised their management platform and saved money with Microsoft System Centre 2012

Over the past few years, Coventry University have been through a significant virtualisation strategy and are now continuing to improve their IT delivery by looking at new ways to save money through products and services without reducing the overall quality of their IT service.

Coventry is an evolving and innovative university with a reputation for excellence in education, and have made substantial progress in the last 3 years. They are now in the top 50 universities, and the top 3 best modern universities in the UK.

What does Coventry’s IT services support?

  • On-premise private cloud
  • 250+ servers, 2500 desktops and BYOD
  • Over 50 core services
  • 80% virtualised on Hyper-V
  • 3 datacentres across campus and a 4th recently opened offsite
  • Public cloud services – Office 365 education, marketing website hosted offsite, storage bought as infrastructure as a service

Where does their virtualisation story begin?

In 2010, a new corporate plan, which changed the entire business context, was brought about, facing the IT department with the seemingly impossible task of saving £1m through IT efficiency and £500k in staffing. All school technicians were moved into central IT sections, and all IT areas outside of central IT were consolidated. Overall, teams got significantly smaller, or were completely disbanded, and IT services could no longer be distributed without having business benefit and value as a whole.

With all the consolidation and standardisation, a large number of products were being used. The IT department tried to cater for each of these, and provide everyone the use of tools and systems they had previously, however, this led to too much information. They found that they had a too many monitoring and deployment systems which had no awareness of other products, thousands of emails and system alerts which the staff could not deal with, desktop managing tools causing image build-drifts and conflicts. All of these were highly exhaustive on staff resource and time, especially after the teams had been reduced in numbers.

Realising this was an unsustainable system, they decided that they wanted a suite of tools which could manage the desktop to the datacentre, and could effectively monitor server health, applications and state with errors, warnings and information being relevant to those receiving the alerts. They wanted a system which could manage incident and job request workflows, but the suite had to be available at a significantly lower cost than the previous tools.

The solution

Wiping the slate clean, all of their previously used products were removed from the infrastructure, and trials were run on a number of products to find a replacement. They made the decision to deploy Microsoft System Centre 2012 as they were already heavily a Microsoft campus. The university chose certain elements of the suite to replace certain products, initially only deploying four:

Operations manager:

  • All servers, hardware and components became managed by an agent or agentless management.
  • Out of the box solutions from Microsoft for application and health rules, with free management packs available for services such as Sequel, ActiveDirectory and Exchange.
  • Real time reporting was moved to a central place, with dashboards for alerts and all emails going directly to system administrators.

Virtual Machine Manager:

  • Manage virtual infrastructure whether it was on Hyper-V, VMware or from a single console.
  • Manage underlying fabrics such as virtual switches and logical networks from one central place.
  • Provisioned servers much faster using built in template libraries and cloning tools, reducing the provisioning time from 1 week to as little as 20 minutes.
  • Deployed services onto systems as they’re built rather than just the server itself.
  • Out of the box tools from Microsoft for physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-virtual conversion tools. Coventry University converted 120 physical servers using physical-to-virtual technology.

Service manager (running 2010 SP1 version, moving to 2012 this July):

  • IT department had single job tool from service desk to infrastructure teams.
  • Job system which could manage incidents, change and problems
  • Automated work-flow turning emails into calls, provide resolution and escalation meaning incidences can be directed to the correct teams.
  • Created self-service portal for users enabling virtual service desk.
  • Response rates improved.
  • Support costs reduced.

Configuration manager (running 2007, moving to 2012 this July):

  • centrally manage work stations providing crash room and lab machine re-cloning and remote operating system deployment, as well as patches and application updates.
  • Monitor and manage software licenses per number of seats without having to have multiple license servers.
  • Remote admin tool for all campus computers to help users fix computer related issues.
  • Enabled configuration manager central power saving policies which has saved up to 293 tonnes per year in carbon using the built in wake up technology within the product.
  • 2012 version has endpoint antivirus control for Mac and Linux deployments.

Cost savings

Previous Products Replaced with System Centre Savings on products P/A
Server and network monitoring Solar winds, Nagios, Zabbix, HP insight, IBM Director utilities Operations manager 2012 SP1 £25,000
Virtual machine management VMware Infrastructure, SCVMM 2008 R2 Virtual Machine Manager 2012 SP1 £8000
Service desk tool RMS Service manager 2010 £30,000
Desktop management (2,500 PCs) Altiris, SMS 2005 Configuration manager 2007 R3 £18,000 on product, £28,000 on carbon reduction and PC power management
Total cost for System Centre under Academic VL (exc. SQL) £892.20 Total savings per annum £109,000
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