Annenberg School Receives Gift of Time from VCE

Academic research these days is a 24/7 business, especially in the world of communication. News, information, and social trends are constantly developing around the world. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication are immersed in a sea of big data generated by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, along with traditional broadcast media, websites, and publications. With this kind of environment, you just imagine the intense demands placed our IT organization.

With our previous infrastructure, our small IT team spent most of their time just keeping the lights green. System maintenance tasks like firmware updates required us to bring down systems, which meant students and faculty couldn’t access email, research databases, and other online services. With students having so many competing research, teaching and personal priorities, they needed to get their academic work done at any time—day or night.

Annenberg Winter

So there never was a “convenient” time to schedule maintenance. To minimize the impact, in IT we would work on weekends and holidays when we’d rather be home with our families. Since schedules for students and faculty don’t follow the typical workweek, even weekend downtime could be disruptive to both their productivity and personal time. We had to find a better way that kept essential services online and didn’t steal family and personal time for IT staff, students and faculty. After evaluating various options, we decided to replace our old systems with a converged infrastructure from VCE.

We deployed two Vblock Systems in an active-active configuration and VCE Vision™ Intelligent Operations software to monitor and manage the environment, which is 99% virtualized with VMware. One of the great things about Vision is that we plug it into VMware vCenter for a single view of our converged infrastructure, virtual machines, and applications. These include a 250-user VMware Horizon virtual desktop infrastructure, Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and an ASP.NET MVC development environment.

Here are just a few of the things we’ve accomplished with Vblock Systems and Vision:

  • Vision has helped us automate some extremely time-intensive system monitoring tasks. For example, we used to spend 10-15 hours weekly on things like health checks. Now it only takes an hour or two.
  • Manual work for firmware updates and patches has mostly gone away. It used to take five days and 12 hours of downtime for system updates.  Now we manage them through Vision with the VCE Release Certification Matrix (RCM), which does the hard work for us—all the latest updates are already documented and tested by VCE.  So we now complete the RCM process in one day with zero downtime.
  • Our researchers are extremely happy with the new private cloud environment. Since moving to Vblock Systems, application performance has been tremendous. Users stream YouTube videos, open files, and synch email faster than ever.
  • Vblock Systems enabled Annenberg to create a Twitter repository that captures 1% of all global tweets 24/7. This provides doctoral students and faculty with invaluable data on social trends and perspectives to aid their research.

The reliable performance and management ease of Vblock Systems, Vision, and RCM returned hours to our day, so we can handle more big data projects with our same small IT team. We now focus on innovation and what’s next instead of constantly tuning systems. Most importantly, this year our IT team will get to be home for the holidays.

If you’d like to learn more about how we are using VCE technology at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, check out our case study and customer success video.

About the Author: Tejash Patel