data centre

North West London College has finished building a new data centre and hopes to rent out the spare space to nearby schools and businesses.

"We are very keen to be a part of the regeneration in our area. We want to support local businesses and schools. Plus it is good for our students to get engagement with employers for apprenticeships" said Garod Barker, IT director at North West London College.

The new data centre is in the college's Willesden campus. It is filled with the college's Compellent Dell SAN which has been upgraded to the latest version.

The college's IT estate has been under construction for the past year, including new storage, software migrations, desktop virtualisation, network installation and a new CRM which was deployed last week.

With a host of IT projects including an e-tracker [a portal to track courses] for students and a move to Microsoft Sharepoint, and Microsoft Dynamix CRM, the three new Dell Compellent SANs have helped cut costs.

"We have yet to buy a server," Barker said.

The new Dynamix CRM will improve the college's "silo situation" which saw several different departments using disparate, seven-year-old CRMs with separate support contracts.

"We now have the storage and capabilities in-house to support it – so amalgamating it into one and removing the support contracts made sense."

Barker said the college is using four virtual servers to support the Sharepoint rollout, which Butler said will improve collaboration and work well with Microsoft Office 2013, which the team are installing during the summer break.

Software installation from eight weeks to four

The college runs approximately 300 of its 600 applications through the VMware thin app. Applications are stored on virtual servers and stream from the SAN to the desktops.

"Before, as we have about 10 in our team, each member had to go around an average of 400 PCs every summer and deploy software manually on every desktop. Now we just deploy it from the office and assign it to individual PCs. It normally took eight weeks to do but it's done in four now."

The next project, Barker added, is using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) so the team can stream the desktop directly from the SAN.

Cloud? Not right now

The college was the first in the UK to deploy Office 365. Barker and his team like to take an innovative approach to their projects, the IT director said. Despite that, the college is not ready for the cloud.

"A lot of colleges have taken the option to go completely cloud. But in the last three months, our JANET connection went down and two colleges had to close. We've chosen a hybrid cloud using the Dell Compellent to keep some resources going just in case. I know it's cost effective and convenient to have everything in the cloud – but I have seen too many bad scenarios. If we lose an external connection we can still function internally," said Butler.

JANET is a publicly-funded network for education and research. It connects universities, schools and university bodies together.

Barker said: "Until I'm more convinced that the cloud scenario is more stable I'll carry on with the hybrid way of doing things."