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Case Studies

Building a self-contained unit for The Open University

The Open University is Britain’s largest University and is the UK’s leading distance learning provider, with more than 200,000 people studying its courses at any one time. In today’s Web 2.0 world, the Computing Services division plays a critical role in supporting the mission of The Open University, a decision had to be made whether the new computer room was to be built as a self-contained unit – essentially becoming a room within a room, and Future-tech provided the perfect solution.

THE BRIEF

Computing Services Division ran two computer rooms on their Milton Keynes campus. Both needed major upgrading, but the University ruled out attempts to upgrade in-situ early in the project as the risk to services was too great for comfort. They required a design that would meet their needs in terms of providing a modern, robust, resilient, high-density data centre environment with plenty of spare capacity, it also had to be resilient to low-level building works, and the ensuing dust and disruption that would be going on around it. Plus, unusually, it had to be weatherproof and watertight for when the building’s roof was being replaced.

 

CHALLENGES AND CONSTRAINTS

The best option for The Open University was a new facility, especially as their students study at unusual hours and with the increase in international students running 24/7, it was imperative that Future-tech provided continuous reliable access around the clock. The University had decided to continue to maintain two separate computer rooms, each capable of delivering all essential University services in the absence of the other. During normal operations the load is shared across both computer rooms with a common virtualised SAN providing resilient data services to both rooms. The new room became the first phase of a wider project which will also upgrade the second room on campus. OU Estates led a project team with key players from Computing Services to guide the design and implementation of the solution.

 

THE FUTURE-TECH SOLUTION

Future-tech proposed a fire resistant dual wall, steel room that could be built within the existing space. Power would be provided to the room from dual power supplies backed by an independent generator. Flexibility was a key aspect of the room and was put to the test within weeks of handover. Initially, Future-tech installed upgradeable 16Amp power circuits. However, the University purchased a high performance disc backup unit requiring a 32Amp circuit, necessitating a painless upgrade. Every rack in every bay also has dual power supplies along with environmental sensors (VESDA) that allows them to spot a failing component and change it before it turns into an electrical fire. While the technical team plan to turn the power off in either computer room from time to time, the sophisticated electrical arrangement means that the SAN will never need to be powered down. Much of the electrical switch equipment also includes embedded thermal imaging devices that allow them to be non-invasively inspected, further reducing downtime.

Future-tech continues to support The Open University’s mission and since have successfully completed over 150 projects in the last 10 years.


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STEVE KNIBBS, HEAD OF HOSTING SERVICES, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON COMPUTER CENTRE

“Many relationships with suppliers are done on a contract, what I would say is the relationship with Future-tech is done on the spirit of the agreement. The team are first class“