Ontario university has new Microsoft private cloud

The University of Waterloo got a lot of mileage out of virtualization. But when its IT infrastructure finally blew a gasket, the school found relief in Microsoft Corp.’s new private cloud offering.

The university got its hands on Microsoft System Center 2012, announced Tuesday at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas, before it officially hit the streets. It’s now using private cloud infrastructure based on System Center 2012 and Windows Server with Hyper-V control to power its housing and residence system.
Greg Parks, infrastructure architect for the University of Waterloo’s housing and residences, says the school had previously “gone heavily down the Microsoft virtualization route.”
“It just becomes so easy to get servers out and deployed, that we’d kind of run out of virtualization capacity,” he says. The time was right to go to System Center 2012.
“We’re not new to the Microsoft virtualization game. We’ve been using it since 2008 [when] it came out originally, so we’re definitely well accustomed to Microsoft technologies and this is kind of the next step for us.”
Parks says the department’s private cloud allows room for infrastructure to grow while reducing the number of IT staff needed to maintain it. Meanwhile, the user experience hasn’t changed. A longtime user of Microsoft technology, the school decided it made the most sense, from a functional and financial perspective, to stick with one vendor rather than building their own cloud.
Canadian universities, like public sector and financial institutions, are somewhat ahead of the curve when it comes to private cloud adoption, according to David Senf, vice-president of infrastructure solutions at IDC Canada Ltd.
“That’s because they’re dealing with such a range of applications, such a range of demands, whether it’s the students, whether it’s the faculty, whether it’s staff, whether it’s a high-performance computing project,” he says.
Hilary Zaborski, product manager for private cloud at Microsoft Canada, says that with IT “moving to the centre of business strategy, customers are looking for faster ways to deliver apps more reliably than ever before. So, that’s really what we’ve built Microsoft private cloud to do.”
Microsoft has a large customer base in the education sector and has a team that focuses solely on educational institutions, she adds. Microsoft [NASDAQ: MSFT] estimates that the university will save more than $600,000 compared to the cost of simply expanding their virtualized infrastructure.
In an IDC survey of Canadian organizations, Senf says, the majority pointed to virtualization as their biggest money saver. But private clouds were a close second.
Senf says that around one-quarter of large and mid-sized Canadian companies are deploying private clouds in some way. Business agility is the biggest reason. “They’re looking at basically faster deployment time. And what I mean by agility is just that… I can get a product out faster; I can reach out to a new market faster.”
When considering at a private cloud deployment, organizations shouldn’t focus so much on the hardware price of their infrastructure, such as the number of physical servers, as the total cost of operation—particularly the cost of maintaining IT staff, he adds.
“Where they’re going to get the cost savings from are things like being able to get access to applications quicker, so faster deployment time. Ideally, it’s looking at better server-to-admin ratios, so in other words, you have fewer administrators looking at and managing the private cloud environment. “
A combination of improved automation and orchestration, and more consistent standards is what makes the difference, Senf says.“When you get to that level and you’re managing the operations more efficiently, then you wind up getting more savings.”

Brian Bloom is a staff writer at ComputerWorld Canada. You can find him on Google+.  He covers enterprise hardware and software, information architecture and security topics.

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