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CityU scales up HCI adoption to modernize data center

Left to right: Johnson Ho, Director of Data Centre Group Hong Kong at Lenovo Global Technology (Hong Kong) Distribution; Adams Chan, Acting Director of Computing Services, City University of Hong Kong

Four years ago, a few departments at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) started streamlining their data center operations by deploying hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) solutions to handle heavy-traffic workloads from a number of systems. These included the departmental online services, SQL databases, application servers for teaching (such as SPSS, SAS, SAP, etc.), and VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) for teaching laboratories.

Hyperconvergence is a software-centric architecture that tightly integrates compute, storage and virtualization resources in a single system that usually consists of x86 hardware. Multiple nodes can be clustered together to create pools of shared compute and storage resources, designed for convenient consumption. The use of hardware yields an infrastructure that's designed to be more flexible and simpler to manage than traditional enterprise infrastructure.

Today, the University is embarking on a complete data center revamp and is once again turning to HCI technology to design one that can cope with the demands of the digital era.

Killing two birds with one stone

This opportunity comes on the heels of a challengethe building that houses the existing data center and the spaces around it will be used by two new colleges: the School of Data Science and the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences. In 2019, the School of Data Science will recruit its first batch of students; while the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences will recruit the very first batch of government-funded students.

Adams Chan, Acting Director of Computing Services at CityU

“We are undergoing our data center migration to make way for our university’s strategic development while modernizing our legacy data center,” says Adams Chan *(photo right), Acting Director of Computing Services at CityU.

The old data center location, which will maintain its rigorously controlled elements such as temperature, humidity, power, cooling, and security, will become wet laboratories.

Chan points out that these elements are also crucial in running wet laboratories. “The conversion of our existing data center site into wet laboratories is a logical decision. More wet laboratories can be set up as a result,” he says.

HCI adoption allows for smaller data-center footprint

Under CityU’s migration plan, the new data center will be moved to another building in the campus. With space availability at a premium, the physical size of the primary data center has shrunk from 8,000 square feet down to 2,000 square feet.

In order to do this, the University is stepping away from the traditional legacy three-tier architecture, consisting of multiple servers, computing nodes, and SAN storage devices, which had been in place for more than 10 years.

According to Chan, CityU is switching to an active-active data center design. The term active-active refers to the use of at least two data centers where both can service an application at any time, so each functions as an active site while backing up each other. The new architecture is expected to deliver enhanced resilience to the new data center and to ensure high availability and reliability.

The University turns to technology partner Lenovo and Nutanix to deliver HCI platforms and solutions.

Chan says that the University’s HCI infrastructure will be initially expanded with the addition of 12 nodes of Lenovo Nutanix solution. More workloads and new applications will be hosted on the HCI platforms including Docker workloads, microservices platform, and business intelligence and data analytics.

“HCI reduces our data center footprint,” says Chan. More than that, however, he stressed that: “With Lenovo Nutanix HCI solution in place, the operation and management of our new data center will become more simplified, agile and reliable.”

Its ability delivering more

Unlike its previous three-tier architecture that requires IT personnel to spend days, if not weeks, to deploy IT services, the use of HCI will help shorten service provisioning time for end users.

“Our staff will be able to get computing resources at speeds comparable to cloud in magnitude of minutes,” Chan says. “This is particularly important for data-centric departments like the School of Data Science. We can provision virtual servers quickly such as setting up Hadoop framework for them to carry out big data related research and teaching.”

Johnson Ho, Director of Data Centre Group Hong Kong at Lenovo Global Technology (Hong Kong) Distribution, notes: “CityU’s HCI deployment is a good reference use case that shows how HCI meets the various needs of students, teachers and school staff in the midst of limited physical space and manpower.”

The new data center is set to go live later this year.

Meanwhile, Chan hopes the scaled-out HCI deployment will pave the way towards the adoption of hybrid cloud.

Indeed, like many organizations embarking on data center modernization projects, hyperconvergence can provide CityU with the agility of public cloud infrastructure without relinquishing control of hardware on their own premises.

“HCI is an enabling technology for our cloud journey. It provides us with an easy and fast way to move into the hybrid cloud,” concludes Chan.

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