Tuesday, 07 April 2015 00:03

Bible College of SA moves ahead on Windows Server 2012 R2

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It's now just 100 days before Windows Server 2003 goes out of support. Here's how one Australian college is benefiting from upgrading to Windows Server 2012 R2 before it had to.

A Microsoft and Intel sponsored study performed by IDC [PDF] found organisations in the Asia Pacific area reported benefits from deploying Windows Server 2012 (after previously using Server 2003) included increased virtualisation density, and increased automation (saving staff time).

As is usual with such research, the organisations remain anonymous and you don't really get a feel for how they were affected individually.

iTWire spoke to the Bible College of South Australia and its outsourcer Calvert Technologies about the benefits that followed an upgrade from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2012 R2.

Lecturer Glenn Clarke (pictured below) has business management responsibilities at the college, and in January 2014 approached Microsoft gold partner Calvert Technologies with a view to outsourcing IT infrastructure management.

Bible College of SA server

Calvert Technologies managing director Dean Calvert said a clear migration path away from Server 2003 "was key" to achieving greater reliability and scalability, and to improving backup arrangements.

The company designed the college's new infrastructure and installed it between May and July 2014. An IBM x3500 server with direct-attached RAID storage virtualises two domain controllers, three load-balanced remote desktop servers, a remote desktop gateway and a database server, all using Windows Server 2012 R2 and Hyper-V.

At the same time, HP ProCurve network switches and Meraki Wi-Fi equipment was installed.

"That's all tier one products with tier one software on top of it," said Calvert.

The reason why the migration period was longer than might be expected was that several older pieces of software used by the college required upgrades to run in the new environment: "one of the more challenging parts," according to Calvert.

To ensure continuity of service, the basic strategy was to install the new server, virtualise the old Windows Server 2003 system, then progressively set up the new virtual machines and the new and upgraded software, and gradually migrated the various roles to the new virtual servers.

Apart from the generally improved performance, a key benefit of the new approach is that if any of the virtualised servers need to be restarted (now a rare situation), that can be done very quickly.

Backup has also improved significantly. Creating a full system image for rapid recovery is relatively difficult with Server 2003, according to Calvert, but the combination of virtualisation and Server 2012 means a full image can be made every night. This simplifies the recovery process and makes it a lot faster.

A combination of cloud-based file-oriented backup for user files, Windows' shadow copy capability and nightly images together provide "near continuous data protection," he said.

This is important in an educational setting due to the risk of tears if students lose files after working on them for hours, especially if it happens just before an assignment is due.

The new environment had several benefits that accrued from being able to run current versions of the software, Clarke said.

"Most of our software was very old" and the upgraded versions required Server 2012.

The updated library software allows catalogue access from anywhere (not just in the library itself), the college's subscriptions to web-based journals are more readily accessible, and a print management system was introduced.

"All of this was something we couldn't do with the old platform," Clarke said. "We're in a much better place."

The remote desktop servers allow students to log in from anywhere on campus (wireless access is provided for BYOD) and run Office 2013, access the library catalogue, and so on.

The addition of a remote desktop gateway means staff and students are also provided with secure access when away from the college.

Looking ahead, Clarke said academic and possibly administrative staff will probably be moved to Office 365 at some stage.

Cloud applications already in use at the Bible College of South Australia include MYOB and OCR services.

The move to Windows Server 2012 and the associated changes has yielded a big improvement, Clarke said. "It's really changed things and brought in a new way of thinking," as well as increasing confidence in the college's IT.

Outsourcing IT management has allowed college staff to concentrate on their real jobs, Calvert observed.

"That's very important for us," said Clarke. "The aim is to forget about it, and let the experts look after it."

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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