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Case study: Storage and Data Solutions for Universities

21 October 2022 Time to read:  minutes

When North Oxford Shared College Services (NOSCS) needed to update their storage and processing power, as well as strengthen their cybersecurity armour, they looked to Trustmarque to push ahead with this critical innovation.

After five years of using their existing VMware storage solution, they were keen to keep up the pace with their next investment. This time they were confident in taking a more hands-on approach to installation and upskilling, as Ben Bridle, Group Head of ICT at NOSCS, explains:

“We needed a system which could be sized in terms of processing power, to cope with the next 5+ years of requirements in operating systems and business applications.”

Ben Bridle, Group Head of ICT, NOSCS

The Solution

Following an initial evaluation using the guidance in place at higher education institutions during IT solution and service procurement and a thorough overview of the market, Ben received several responses to the proposal. After careful consideration of the responses from several possible candidates, a proposal came from Account Manager, Chris Barnes at Trustmarque. Working with Chris, Ben and his team decided upon storage and data solutions from Tintri which offered a broad and highly-regarded range of Intelligent Infrastructure solutions to meet any enterprise storage requirement. Tintri delivers an exceptional user experience through automation, analytic insights, and a variety of time-saving features to simplify the management of the most valuable workloads.

During the installation of the solution, the then ongoing COVID-19 restrictions slowed down the process significantly – preventing Ben and his team from shadowing the technicians as closely as they had hoped. However, they are buoyed by what the solution will bring to their business continuity response.

“Previously, we had a technician who spent two days building the datacentre in situ and at that time we were quite hands-off. This time, we knew we needed to take more of the lead to future-proof the solution, so we got involved from the word go.”

Ben Bridle, Group Head of ICT, NOSCS

Old vs. new storage and data solutions

Ben and the team have reaped the benefits of the upgrade:

Old environment

  • Two x IntelliFlash arrays
  • Four x Dell servers and Brocade networking.
  • Ageing EOSL systems, didn’t have enough performance and needed to incorporate the fourth college whereas the previous solution only catered for three.
  • No Security posture just snapshots on storage arrays which would not have protected in the event of a cyber-attack.

New environment

  • Two x T4200 IntelliFlash Hybrid Flash Arrays
  • Four x Dell Poweredge R640 Servers
  • Four x Dell DNS5224F Switches
  • Cyber Resilient and Back Up Platform:
    – Arcserve – Onexafe

Because the previous system was so successful, despite many alternatives being offered via other providers, it was decided that a newer version of what they had before (with added capabilities around backup, cyber, for instance) would future-proof the setup.

Benefits of the new storage and data solutions

Performance increases

This method allows for good performance without taking a hit to bandwidth usage as data is not replicated to remote backups in real-time, as in a synchronous replication method.

Improved cyber security and resilience with immutable copies

A-sync replication that couldn’t be done on the older generation of storage (in async the data is written to the primary storage first, then depending on the settings and the type of implementation, replicates the data into a separate remote storage medium, in this case, the second array). The copying or replication is done in predetermined intervals.

Arcserve Back-up

In 2021, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) was investigating an uplift in education sector cyber attacks, citing a major cause being “phishing” and “lack of cyber awareness training”. These attacks have led to the loss of student coursework, financial records as well as data relating to COVID-19 testing, at universities across the UK, according to the NCSC. Due to these changes within the higher education threat landscape, a requirement arose to further invest into this area to remain one step ahead of malicious activity. Ben and his team increased the scope of the initial project to also tighten their cyber security posture through with Arcserve:

“The message from the NCSC was clear – the evolution of what we had was ransomware protection. In the final stages of the project, we added Arcserve back up technology into the mix so that we could keep data offline, and store it away safely just in case that the worst-case scenario happened. We can now retrieve the data and continue supporting our students and teaching staff.”

Ben Bridle, Group Head of ICT, NOSCS

The Benefit

Five months after their initial agreement was put in place, NOSCS is realising the benefits across their four sites. Their investment in their continuous data protection has given them byte-level changes which are continuously replicated from their production system to the replica system, providing constant protection to keep data and information accurate, and systems operational.

“The way it used to work is satellite colleges would have half of their storage on one side and half on the other, and then replicate on an hourly basis. So theoretically, you could bring up those satellite colleges on the working college’s array.”

“Now, the asynchronous replication at those satellite colleges means they have their sites running almost real-time on both sides and on, both sites, so if one fails, we stay up and running.”

Ben Bridle, Group Head of ICT, NOSCS

Not only has the new installation enabled NOSCS to up the ante on their continuity and ultimately their cyber security armor, but they also know that there’s support at Trustmarque if they require further assistance with their investment:

“If we encountered a problem, Chris Barnes would drop most things that he could do or negotiate with us to help us out, often going above and beyond what it said in the terms and conditions. And that to us is extremely valuable.”

Ben Bridle, Group Head of ICT, NOSCS

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