Building a data center around an application architecture

Building a data center around an application architecture

With a software-defined network as the hub of a new data center, Bowling Green State University is easing infrastructure maintenance and streamlining application delivery.

The IT department at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) couldn’t do it all. New application and service requests, software updates and patches, and infrastructure maintenance all demanded time and attention—which was in finite supply.

Of course, each new application or service added to the snowball effect. More to maintain, less time to fulfill the ongoing stream of requests from the University’s staff.

“Department leaders are always finding new applications that they want to employ for teaching purposes, and they want them fast,” says Matt Haschak, director of IT security and infrastructure at BGSU. “We were trying to do it all, but it was unsustainable.”

Something had to give.

New colocation strategy
The data center at BGSU is smack dab in the middle of campus, on the third floor of a building that was constructed in 1931. The location presents a number of challenges, such as getting new equipment into the room. At one point, the University had go as far as cutting a hole in the roof and lowering in new hardware. 

  • BGSU recently decided to establish a new data center at a colocation facility.
  • Doing so would free up valuable space on campus for new student services, and also dramatically reduce the time and effort required for infrastructure maintenance.
  • But hardware caretaking was only half the problem. BGSU wanted to find a better, faster way to accommodate requests for new applications and IT services.

“We started looking at SDN [software-defined networking], and we had three requirements,” says Haschak. “We wanted an architecture that would allow us to be more efficient, that would be more flexible and open, and offer better, more consistent security.”

His research led him to the combination of:

  • Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (Cisco ACI)
  • Cisco Nexus® switches
  • Intel® Xeon® processor-based Cisco Unified Computing System (Cisco UCS®)

“We did a bunch of homework and looked at other SDN solutions, but they weren’t as mature as ACI,” says Haschak. “And once the decision was made, ACI became the focal point of the entire colocation build out. We are building everything around it.”

More consistency, better security
Haschak cut his teeth as a security analyst, and he brings a security-minded focus to every infrastructure project and decision. While Cisco ACI was chosen for its ability to simplify and accelerate application delivery, it was the security aspects of the architecture that got his juices flowing.

“ACI is a policy-based architecture,” Haschak explains. “Once you define those policies, they follow the application no matter where it is stored or accessed. If you do it right the first time, everything else becomes faster, easier, more consistent, and more secure moving forward.”

Cisco ACI forced Haschak and his team to better understand the connections and communications between BGSU’s technology systems, and establish policies surrounding application security, load balancing, user access, and the like.

“It takes some time up front, but it will pay huge dividends for us,” he says. “A lot of security breaches happen on old systems that are somewhat forgotten and just sitting there. With ACI, we can see everything in a single pane of glass, we know what is connected to what, and we know the security policies are being enforced.”

When BGSU’s applications are ported to the new colocation data center in Spring 2016, the university’s IT staff:

  • Will be largely freed from the burden of infrastructure maintenance.
  • Will have a powerful SDN architecture that streamlines application delivery and support. 

“We will be able to accommodate more one-off requests, and we will have more time to consider new things and new ways of serving our students and staff,” says Haschak.

He cites a new test and development environment for university researchers as an example. In the past, that sort of environment would have been very difficult and time consuming to deploy, segment from the University’s core systems, and secure. With Cisco ACI policy templates, it will be fast and effortless.

“Our new architecture is allowing us to evolve,” Haschak says, “as an IT staff and as a university.”

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