Ashi Sheth, director of IT, explains how American University of Sharjah is taking learning outside the classroom
Like any organisation with a large and growing number of users, AUS has faced the challenge of server sprawl. From around 60 servers when he joined, the number in the data centre increased rapidly to around 140 and was growing at around 15 machines a year.
Around three years ago, therefore, Sheth and his team embarked on a server virtualisation project that has helped dramatically reduce the number of systems in the data centre.
“Today, we have over 200 virtualised production servers running across a 15 node environment, with replication and availability back-ended by storage,” the director of IT explains. “We’re expanding it within the next two months to a 20 node VMware environment supporting 250-275 production instances. Our data centre size is in the neighbourhood of 50 devices and the majority of those are appliances, such as e-mail scanners.”
The university’s database servers have not yet been virtualised because of the way the databases are licensed. “The way some vendors license their database is total number of CPUs… and when you drop them into a virtualised environment, it’s total number of potential CPUs,” Sheth explains. “What that means is even though I’m only dedicating one or two CPUs to this database, if it can run across 35 of them I have to license all 35.” Software vendors, he believes are aware of the problem and will start change their licensing models within a year to promote virtualisation.
In addition to beefing up its data centre, virtualisation technology is allowing AUS to experiment with virtual desktops and virtual applications. Once rolled out, the services will further its ‘AUS Anywhere’ strategy, which envisions students being able to interact with educational software whenever and wherever they want.
As Sheth explains, much of the educational software that students use is located in learning laboratories or libraries on campus. When those labs and libraries close, access to the specialised learning software is lost.
Thanks to technology from Citrix, AUD students will soon be able to fire up a Windows 7 virtual desktop on their personal devices (be they iPads, Android tablets or PCs) and begin using the learning software that they’ve left behind in the library.
“Half our students don’t live on campus and the half that do still need access all the time,” Sheth explains. “Most of our internet traffic pops up at 1.00-4.00am. That’s when our students are back in their dorm rooms. If they had the opportunity to continue working, I think they would.”
With virtual desktops, not only would students be able to keep working, AUS could also control their access to the software. “You always have a working system that has the applications you need, when you need them,” explains Sheth.