Saving money: Coventry University cuts £1m through virtualisation

Coventry University has cut its computing costs by using Hyper-V to put business critical apps in a private cloud.


Most organisations are looking to save money but academic institutions are under particular pressure as they cope with the pressure of trying to do less with more. Universities have increasingly turned to virtualisation in a bid to cut costs and the savings can be dramatic.

Coventry University looked to adopt this approach, by taking on board Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter and has managed to save about £1 million through virtualisation. It was part of a long-term plan to improve technological facilities within Coventry. The university has invested significantly in developing its facilities, spending £160 million on improving research and learning facilities in a 10-year plan that included the opening of a new £55 million Engineering and Computing building in September 2012. Providing students with modern information and communications technology tools—such as streamlined, high-performing student computing labs and consistent access to a virtual learning environment—is a major focus of improvements.

Coventry University has saved about £1 million through virtualisation

Two years ago, the University started on its plan to improve university services. The team looked at Hyper-V, Citrix VirtualBox, and VMware, comparing each product and evaluating the best combination of price, performance, and tools. As part of its strategic plan, the university wanted to centralise IT to support efficient management.

The university chose to virtualise its infrastructure using Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter, which helps staff manage all IT services from one place.

"With Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter, we gained precisely the features we needed to achieve savings, standardisation, and greater control over the network," said Steve Rogers, Server Team Leader at Coventry University

The evaluation resulted in the university choosing to deploy a virtualised infrastructure based on Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter and Hyper-V. “There was no question that it was the best total infrastructure solution for Coventry University,” says Steve Booth, head of Computing Service at Coventry University. “Not only is the licensing cost-effective, but we can also use Microsoft System Center tools to manage the infrastructure efficiently from one location.”

The licensing structure for Hyper-V meant that Coventry University bought just one license for the host machine, but is entitled to run as many virtual machines as it needs. This is included as part of Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter and provided the team with dozens of tools to manage infrastructure, including those needed for live migration and clustering, from a graphical user interface.

"Although we were initially a bit skeptical about Hyper-V, we played around with it to get the best configuration for our needs. We started to think it was a good fit for us in terms of features and a more cost-effective solution for our environment than VMware," said Booth. Coventry University configured each host operating system with 32 gigabytes of random access memory and four processors, to ensure it met its stringent requirements for memory and performance.

As part of the plan, the university used Microsoft System Center 2012 - Operations Manager and Virtual Machine Manager to ensure that applications kept on working in the same way they did prior to moving to the cloud.

For example, Operations Manager detects failures automatically and re-configures server failover so that users don’t experience downtime. With Virtual Machine Manager, the IT team can manage and configure all machines onto the virtual network.

"Virtual Machine Manager manages more than 280 of our servers. That’s around 85 per cent of our server infrastructure,” said Booth. “Applications managed in the new environment include business-critical services such as human resources, Exchange Server, and payroll. Rather than having one of our team managing servers physically, we can do this from a central console.

The university also wanted to centralise IT to support efficient management. It’s now achieved this with a virtualised server infrastructure based on Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter. This has helped staff manage all IT services from one place. The team avoids downtime through automated, proactive monitoring in Microsoft System Center and its ability to configure thresholds to meet university network demands.

This has enabled the organisation to deliver new business services quickly. Booth said that the IT organisation was able to aligns IT delivery to business needs. “It takes us just one day to provision a standard server, compared to three months in our previous environment,” he said.

The move to virtualise infrastructure has mean that the university has managed to save £1 million in the first year of deployment. The virtualisation of the organisation’s infrastructure has made on-going savings through improved control and has reduced its requirement for IT staff, saving the university one full-time staff member’s salary a year. Power and cooling costs have also been cut because the university has reduced the number of physical servers it needs and has made a corresponding reduction in floor space requirements within the data centre.

Booth said that savings of £129,000 in licensing had been made, “plus we avoid costs for further investment and gain greater control with the Microsoft System Center tools in Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter,” he added.

The university has reduced power and cooling costs by around £28,000 each year. This has mean that it has also cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent. Rogers said that had the university not managed to achieve this goal it would have received a hefty fine. "Virtualisation and centralised management is helping us to avoid these costs too," said Rogers.

As well as savings in IT, the university also has reduced costs in research. As an applied research institution, Coventry University often needs to set up and support short-term projects quickly. The virtualised infrastructure will help avoid unnecessary costs by making it easier to take advantage of managed cloud services where it can provision servers, applications, and capacity fast.

"We can embrace the cloud business model in the future, either for our entire infrastructure or for specific department projects, such as those that need an on-demand computing service. Before, we had to buy physical servers—now, we can ‘rent’ virtual server instances from our central provision for a project’s duration," said Booth.

The university has reduced power and cooling costs by around £28,000 and cut carbon emissions by 20 percent

The university now plans to tackle the business continuity issue, replicating its data at another location with the tools in Windows Server 2012 Datacenter.

"It’s very straight forward to configure our data to be replicated at another site that we are in control of. We currently use a managed storage service with our data carried off-site every day but we’re now equipped to organise our own disaster recovery solution," said Rogers.

Originally posted on Cloud Pro by Rene Milman.

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