Data Centre developments

Flowchart

[01 October 2015]

Nick Skelton, Assistant Director IT Services [Infrastructure] writes:

The University has two main data centres, located in the Computer Centre & Physics buildings, which host most of our administrative and research IT systems.

Over the last 12 months the infrastructure team in IT Services have focused attention on replacing the old network within the Computer Centre and Physics building data centres. The aim is to have a new network that provides much faster speeds and greater capacity to deliver the IT needs required by the University now and in the immediate future.

In order to make these improvements we have to make a series of changes to deploy new infrastructure and remove the old. Any change is a risk in itself, and this is particularly true when dealing with the underpinning infrastructure which all IT services depend on.

Managing risk in a complex environment

To reduce the risk we plan and test such changes very carefully in advance and consider when to schedule it. We have been making changes over the summer and there are more of these changes to come. Please bear with us as we make them, they are all necessary to enable better IT for Bristol.

Modern IT systems at Bristol use very resilient, highly connected systems. We use virtual systems which can recover from faults quickly. However the flipside of this approach is that the systems and the interconnections are highly complex, and when issue do arise they are more wide ranging and difficult to diagnose. This is a sensible tradeoff, as the issues occur less often, but we still want to minimise them. We’re  always improving how we operate, including learning when things go wrong, with the aim to constantly up our game.

The majority of our servers are dual connected, two network connections and two power supplies. We can often conduct maintenance work with no impact on the service or only very short blips to availability. Nonetheless, we advertise such work on the IT Services’ website and the all staff bulletin for the more major works, so people have information about what is going on.

Future developments

IT systems need substantial power and cooling to operate, something Estates & IT work closely on. Capital expenditure has recently been approved to upgrade the power & cooling systems in the Computer Centre and in Physics. The work is currently out to tender and will take place in the new year.

In addition to our two existing facilities, the University is currently considering an entirely new offsite data centre. The intention is to acquire capacity in an existing large data centre run by a data centre specialist.

This would enable greater continuity for the most important administrative systems, host the next generation of the Bluecrystal HPC, and provide flexible space to host research systems for individual research groups. This plan is currently under consideration and progressing through appropriate committees - we hope to have more information to share on it in upcoming months.

Our data centre services are of course only a part of the picture. We are also looking at cloud services - we already use them and they will become a greater proportion of our systems over time. We are also looking at the wired and wireless networking across the campus and to our more remote sites, so that staff and students can access IT wherever they are. These and other areas will form part of the IT Services strategy and capital plan as it develops.

I hope this information is useful to understand what we are doing to improve IT Infrastructure at Bristol and how we are doing it.

If you have questions or comments please add them to a version of this message posted on Yammer in the All Company Group.

Please also see the latest news on Data Centre work in November and December.