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The University of Derby Extends Infrastructure-as-Code to its Network

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Updated:July 27, 2021

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Updated:July 27, 2021

Table of Contents

 

 

Located in the heart of England, the University of Derby is a public university that offers more than 300 undergraduate degrees as well as postgraduate and research-focused programs. Rated Gold in the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), the university’s academic strengths are backed by practical experiences to ensure its students are ready for a successful career. For more information, visit www.derby.ac.uk/.

Executive Summary

Customer Name: University of Derby

Industry: Higher Education

Location: Derby, England

Number of Employees: 33,000 staff and students

Challenges

  Increase network flexibility and automation
  Improve infrastructure security and resiliency
  Simplify and accelerate data center operations

Solutions

Results

  Accelerated network deployments and troubleshooting from hours to minutes
  Automated network patches and upgrades, eliminating manual, multi-day efforts
  Segregated managed and unmanaged devices across four security zones
  Increased application performance and student record page loads
 

The University of Derby

Increasing IT automation

With the University of Derby expanding its research focus in recent years, the demands on its technology infrastructure have steadily increased. To meet these demands without hiring more staff, the university’s IT team has been modernizing its two data centers with software-defined programmability and automation.

“We established Infrastructure-as-Code with the servers and applications running on our hyperconverged compute and storage platform,” says Richard Lock, principal infrastructure engineer at University of Derby. “And we wanted the same level of flexibility and automation with our data center network.”

The university’s former network had design limitations, he explains. Although Layer 2 had been stretched across the two active/active data centers, resilience and security segmentation at the network level were a concern. The university needed better network performance to support east-west application traffic within the new hyperconverged environment. And there was a desire to simplify network operations and reduce human errors.

The University of Derby chose Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (Cisco ACI), extending Infrastructure-as-Code to its data center network. Using Cisco Nexus Dashboard Orchestrator and Ansible playbooks, the network is highly automated and has accelerated the university’s data center operations.

“Rolling out new VLANs takes minutes instead of hours, using repeatable code we know is safe,” Lock says. “And we can implement changes or patches collectively instead of doing it manually, switch-by-switch. What used to take multiple days is now a hands-off, set-and-forget process.”

Providing connectivity for a new compute and storage platform, the Cisco ACI network has also had a positive impact on application speeds.

“There’s been a significant improvement in performance,” Lock says. “Ninety-nine percent of page loads from our student records system are now delivered in less than three seconds, which has a direct impact on the user experience.”

 

“Rolling out new VLANs takes minutes instead of hours, using repeatable code we know is safe. And we can implement changes or patches collectively instead of doing it manually, switch-by-switch. What used to take multiple days is now a hands-off, set-and-forget process.”

− Richard Lock, Principal Infrastructure Engineer, University of Derby

 

A picture containing text, computer, electronicsDescription automatically generated

Improving access control

Without full fault isolation, the university’s previous network was susceptible to certain disaster scenarios. Cisco ACI has eliminated those vulnerabilities. The university’s two data centers are now fully synchronized, and a variety of internal tests have validated the efficacy and seamlessness of automatic failover. What’s more, the university is leveraging the segmentation capabilities of Cisco ACI to isolate managed and unmanaged devices across four security zones.

“We’ve never had segregation between roles and devices until now, and having that flexibility is very attractive,” Lock says.

In addition to segmenting its network, the university is using Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) to improve security management and access control.

“ISE allows us to establish a common, software-defined security policy across our data center and campus networks,” Lock says, noting the latter is expected to be transitioned to Cisco SD-Access. “It’s focused on users and workloads instead of the network, and gives us more flexible and dynamic access control.”

If there’s ever a problem, Lock says the increased visibility and data insights provided by Cisco ACI help speed up troubleshooting and mean-time-to-repair (MTTR).

“The network provides health scores, and we can easily drill down if something is flagged,” he explains. “There’s no need to go into individual switches or third-party monitoring tools. Troubleshooting takes minutes instead of hours.”

 

“We’ve never had segregation between roles and devices until now, and having that flexibility is very attractive.”

− Richard Lock, Principal Infrastructure Engineer, University of Derby

Passing the test

COVID-19 was the ultimate stress test for the university’s new data center network, and according to Lock, it passed with flying colors.

“Cisco ACI is very flexible and our virtual learning environment was already on the network, so we didn’t have a problem with the increased load,” he says. “It took us one or two days to get everyone working from home and carrying on like normal.”

The university can also extend its network – and associated policies – to the cloud as future needs dictate.

“We’re not currently planning to do so, but it’s certainly an option for us,” Lock says. “The combination of Cisco ACI and Cisco Nexus Dashboard Orchestrator make it easy to stretch network policies and migrate workloads to Azure and other cloud environments.” 

Learn more

Learn more about Cisco data center computing and networking customer deployments.

Product list

Cisco ACI

Cisco Nexus 9000

Cisco Nexus Dashboard Orchestrator

ISE

Cisco SD-Access

 

 

Learn more