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NSMS has completed many projects around the University and we present case studies of some of these projects here.

Case Study: Cost-effective Windows server management in the Department of Pharmacology

NSMS were asked by the Department of Pharmacology to assist in the upgrade and subsequent management of their Windows domain. In conjunction with the local IT staff, NSMS planned and implemented a strategy to upgrade the domain to a Windows 2000 Active Directory forest, migrating the Exchange setup to the (then) latest version and replacing the hardware of the most significant machines.

The number of servers was consolidated from four to two servers, with a minimum of disruption to the departmental staff. With the upgrade completed, the two servers were placed under monitoring contracts with NSMS, freeing up the time of the local IT staff and enabling them to deal with local support issues more effectively.

Case Study: Building An Enterprise Infrastructure Without An Enterprise Budget

In 2008 Business Services and Projects (BSP), the Information and Communications Technology Support Team (ICTST) and NSMS embarked upon a collaboration to implement an enterprise level server infrastructure with dual site redundancy and mirrored data storage. The goal of the project was to consolidate the servers from BSP, ICTST and Oxford University Library Services (OULS). The requirements were to provide:

  • Highly available services
  • Minimum single points of failure
  • Resilient storage configuration
  • Resilient against total site failure
  • Large resource pool

Using the expertise within NSMS the servers would be migrated from many physical devices to a virtual infrastructure using VMware's ESX software running on fully redundant hardware. The design of the solution was based upon a storage farm and an ESX farm being deployed at two separate locations (the OUCS machine and a machine room in the science area known as the Beach) linked by dedicated and redundant fibre. The detailed design was as follows:

  • 14 dual quad-core Xeon Dell 1950III servers with 32GB of RAM
  • Two 10GB dedicated fibre links between OUCS and The Beach
  • Ten LHN iSCSI SAN nodes providing 18Tb raw 15k SAS storage
  • Synchronous cross-site storage replication for data integrity
  • VI3.5 Enterprise for cross-site VMotion and High Availability
  • Redundant links to Oxford WAN utilising STP
  • Redundant network hardware utilising 2 x Cisco Catalyst Stacks
  • Redundant bridging firewalls at both sites

The project had a very ambitious timetable but nevertheless was successfully delivered on time in August 2008 after an 11 week implementation phase. Since handover, the ongoing management of the hardware and virtualisation platform has been undertaken by NSMS and the infrastructure resources have been shared between BSP and ICTST.

Case Study: Enhancing web services at the Museum of the History of Science

The web server for Museum of the History of Science was running on old hardware that was past end of life and the Museum wanted to avoid spending on new hardware. A physical to virtual server conversion was performed on the old server. This then immediately ran on the NSMS blade system. This work took 3 hours.

The Museum then decided that, for a new website project, they needed to upgrade from PHP4.2 to PHP5.2, a big change that was likely to break many of their existing websites. So the new virtualised Web Server was cloned to a second VM and the clone was used to test the PHP upgrade. All the while, the live server was up and running while NSMS worked out and resolved the problems caused by the PHP upgrade. Once this was done, PHP was upgraded on the live server without a hitch or any downtime, following the steps developed on the clone. This work took 2:30 hours.

Case Study: Improving emergency status notification

In August 2007 the electrical power to the OUCS machine room had to be suspended for a significant part of a day for a routine five yearly safety inspection. It was impossible to supply sufficient power from alternative sources to keep all the services going but there were some essential services that had to be switched over to an auxiliary supply. The Status service (http://status.ox.ac.uk) provided by OUCS was one of these essential services.

The Status server is a Debian Linux based system normally running as a VM on the NSMS blade hardware but this hardware was going to be powered down during the shutdown period. The following plan was devised to provide continuity for the Status service:
  • A small server, able to be powered from the auxiliary supply, was set aside to support the temporary service.
  • Windows 2003 was already installed on this server and VMware Server (free software) was installed on this.
  • The live VM that was running on the blade system was copied to a file on the temporary server.
  • Although the production blade system runs VMware ESX, the VM files for that system are compatible with the VMware Server program so the VM file of the status system was immediately able to run on the temporary server.
  • Before the main power down, the blade system was powered down. As soon as the Status Service VM was powered down, the copy installed on the temporary server was started. The temporary server was connected to the same network domain as the blade system so no DNS changes were required; the status service was immediately available.
  • After the safety inspection was completed, the temporary Status service VM was powered down and the service was restarted on the blade system.

Case Study: Building An Enterprise Infrastructure Without An Enterprise Budget

When the Oxford University Language Centre had to renew their IT infrastructure, they harnessed the power of virtualisation to provide a robust, scalable, and cost-effective IT infrastructure that punches far above the economic weight of the department. Through this technology, they have been able to implement unprecedented flexibility, reliability and responsiveness in their IT resources. It has also allowed them to introduce other services that would not otherwise have been affordable.

The details of this project are described in a paper Building An Enterprise Infrastructure Without An Enterprise Budget - A Case Study On Virtualisation written by Mike Sloane, the IT support officer for the Language Centre. It introduces virtualisation, available products, the possible approaches, and describes how they exploited the capabilities of virtualisation to build an infrastructure that is more capable than would have been possible by traditional methods. The benefits experienced are so extensive that they are now planning to implement a Virtual Desktop solution based around VMware ACE for their teaching needs.

Case Study: Providing cost effective Apple Mac support at the Public Affairs Directorate

Based in Wellington Square, the University Public Affairs Directorate (PAD), produces high quality professional publications and literature for the University of Oxford.

NSMS was asked to provide the support and IT provision for the PAD. NSMS assessed the in-place systems and specified suitable replacement Apple Macs. These machines were installed and configured by NSMS to provide reliable, high end graphics workstations. Following the success of the workstation upgrade, NSMS have provided a shared filestore hosted on an Xserve and will be expanding the use of OS X technologies within the group.

Case Study: Enhancing web services at the Department of Theology

The Department of Theology has an extensive and complex Web site which, by making use of many technologies, illustrates very well the main method of Web development used by many Web programmers in the University.

The key components are PHP scripts, which are used to manipulate data held in extensive MySQL databases. The databases are “hidden away” on the server, yet the webmaster can access these through a phpMyAdmin Web interface in order to make direct changes to the structure of his tables. In addition, new and updated MySQL database files can be uploaded directly from the webmaster's desktop by way of a secured FTP client.

The fact that database information is held in one easily accessible, secure, area means that it is easier to make changes quickly.

Case Study: Streamlining windows workstation management at Occupational Health

The UOHS, a department of Oxford University, exists to prevent and alleviate work-related health issues. Please see http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/uohs/ for additional information.

NSMS has been supporting the UOHS for many years and is currently managing a NetWare file and print server and a Windows Server 2003 machine, which hosts a mission-critical database application for managing appointments and highly confidential patient data.

To address the department’s need for confidentiality, the local network is secured by a firewall which has been installed and configured by NSMS and is managed and monitored on an annual-contract basis.

NSMS has upgraded all of the workstations to Windows XP Professional SP2, so that they meet acceptable standards of security and flexibility. The workstation upgrade included profile transfer, and the installation of client software to allow connectivity to the new database application. NSMS was in communication throughout with the software vendor to ensure a successful transition to the new database.

All the workstations are connected to the NSMS Windows Server Update Service (WSUS). This automatically applies critical updates for Windows XP and Office 2003. Anti-Virus software provision and monitoring for all workstations is provided by the NSMS Sophos Anti-Virus service.

UOHS now has a fully functional and secure IT setup, only requiring routine ongoing maintenance.

Case Study: Windows 7 at the Rothermere American Institute

NSMS has installed a new batch of workstations running Windows 7 at the Rothermere American Institute. The workstations were configured using an image created and deployed using the imagex technology afforded by the Windows Automated Installation Kit. The use of a sysprep'd image significantly reduced the time and cost of deploying the workstations. The uniformity of desktop configuration also simplifies the on-going management of these machines for the RAI.