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New case study: monitoring technology at the University of Law

During the last decade the University of Law (previously the College of Law) has grown and, as a result of this growth, Stefan Veldsman, Senior IT Operations Specialist, has seen the number of IT assets and complexity of the IT infrastructure grow accordingly. Over this period, IT had the ever-challenging responsibility to deliver world class service to their growing customer base.

The University of Law is the UK’s longest-established specialist provider of legal education and training. Formally established as The College of Law in the 1960s, their roots in the profession stretch back over one hundred years. They made history in 2006 by becoming the first independent institution to be granted degree-awarding powers by the Privy Council, leading to the development of their professionally-focused Bachelor and Master of Laws degree programmes. In 2012, they were granted full university title and recently changed their name from The College of Law to The University of Law.

During the last decade the University has grown and, as a result of this growth, Stefan Veldsman, Senior IT Operations Specialist, has seen the number of IT assets and complexity of the IT infrastructure grow accordingly. Over this period, IT had the ever-challenging responsibility to deliver world class service to their growing customer base. “To proactively support customers, we knew we needed a better way to monitor and manage our network,” comments Stefan. “At the time, IT was using a Basic Utility which reported on service and server availability, but that didn’t help us pinpoint the root cause of a problem.”

After a training course session one day, Stefan overheard the course lecturer discussing Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold. He discovered that the product gave IT visibility into the status of the network, servers, etc., at any point in time and realised that this could help the Operations Team better monitor the network. Encouraged by what he heard, he decided to research the software.

“WhatsUp Gold does exactly that – gives us insight into the current state of our IT Infrastructure,” comments Stefan. “And when compared to other monitoring software providers on the market, WhatsUp Gold gives us in-depth identification of where the problem originates. The Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold software offers additional features that other vendors provide, but at a more competitive price.”

Meeting Customer Needs
Stefan is part of the IT Operations team which supports internal customers, existing students and prospective students. For internal customers e.g. finance, marketing, etc., IT uses WhatsUp Gold to inventory and monitor the University’s web and database servers. “With WhatsUp Gold, we can inventory assets and identify model numbers, serial numbers, warranty information and know what software is running on the University’s servers”, comments Stefan. “This is important because we need to ensure that only authorised software is installed.”
In support of the existing 8,000+ students, IT uses WhatsUp Gold to monitor availability for student email, file and print servers and other systems that provide on-line study materials, including Flash and video. For prospective students, WhatsUp Gold monitors the University web servers, which support the online course booking and web payment systems. Stefan comments, “From an  e-commerce point of view, WhatsUp Gold assists us in monitoring our customer-facing website availability and ensures that service level agreements (SLAs) are met.

The IT department must ensure that internal and external customers have access to IT services when they need it. To address these needs, the University IT team prioritises their server groups based on the importance of the services they provide. For example, server group 1 contains the public facing servers, those that support student emails and study materials. These servers get the highest priority. Internal websites, development and test environment servers are identified as a lower priority.

Prioritising servers into groups is important in the event of a power outage. The Data Centre Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) provides about two hours of runtime. If the power is out for more than two hours, IT wants to properly manage server shutdowns. During power outages, the air conditioners also shut down, raising the temperature in the Data Centre. This can result in servers shutting down or failing – an event that IT also wants to manage. When outages occur, the UPS kicks in to provide power to the servers. The University IT team uses WhatsUp Gold Performance Monitor to monitor the UPS time remaining and to initiate scripts to ‘gracefully’ shut down server groups based on importance and priority.

Network Mapping
The IT team uses WhatsUp Gold Layer 2 capabilities to help monitor the network at University branches in Bristol, Birmingham, Chester, Manchester, York, Guildford and London. With WhatsUp Gold, IT created network maps that show the devices, their connectivity and dependencies. These maps are displayed at the IT Data Centre in Guilford so IT knows immediately if a router or switch fails and what servers will be impacted.
IT also uses WhatsUp Gold Layer 2 Maps to help students find available PCs at the London Bloomsbury branch. There are 350 PCs across five floors that are available for on-demand student use. It can be time-consuming and frustrating for students to find an available PC. With WhatsUp Gold, IT created custom SNMP monitors to track PC availability and display them on Layer 2 Maps. “We display these maps on TV monitors on each floor and colour code the PCs as green, red or grey depending on the status”, says Stefan.

IT productivity and Customer Satisfaction
“WhatsUp Gold is an extremely cost-effective tool that saves us a lot of time and money, while improving IT productivity”, comments Stefan. “Our team can devote their time working on projects, managing databases and upgrading systems. Having WhatsUp Gold is like having an additional team member, dedicated 100 per cent full time to monitoring the network – a small price to pay for a big job.” More importantly, WhatsUp Gold helps the IT team ensure their customers have access to the services they need, when and where they need them, by enabling IT to proactively address infrastructure issues before they impact their users.