One of the largest enterprise NT-based
thin client solutions in the UK is being implemented at Bristol UWE (University of the
West of England) by Unisys. Windows NT and 2000 explorer spoke to Bristol UWE and Unisys
about the £2.5 million 18 month project to link 1,500 thin clients.
The introduction of an Enterprise NT model, incorporating thin client technologies is a
major factor in achieving UWEs mission to deliver commodity products for users in a
manner that minimises costs in order to release funds for academic innovation. With 25,000
students, 3,000 staff and eight campuses, Bristol UWE hosts a large IT installation
including over 60 Novell servers, 12 Unix servers and 4,000 PCs running Windows 3.1 and
emerging islands of NT. To ensure continued innovation in academic delivery
the university must drive down the existing total cost of ownership. It sees this as the
only possible option for enabling growth during the period of reduced funding. It chose
Unisys as a project partner because of its technical track record and its understanding of
a true systems integration partnership.
Unisys has more than 33,000 employees involved in a range of global information services.
Its SystemFlow methodology is used by its technology consultants to help deliver
successful, large-scale NT projects across branch networks. SystemFlow involves a set of
management and control processes to address every aspect of a project. This includes
planning the work breakdown structures, analysing and managing the risk, defining the
configuration management procedures, quality assurance and cost control.
Windows NT and 2000 explorer spoke to UWEs IT Director, John Saville (JS) and
Unisys UK Marketing Manager for NT Programmes, Andy Jordan (AJ) to find out about
Exp: What made you decide to change the existing IT structure?
JS: The university faces dual challenges at the technical and pedagogical
level. With the creation of the University of the West of England as an entity (as opposed
to its former existence as a polytechnic), we are finding that at an academic level, the
traditional autonomous faculty/school is no longer appropriate. At a technical level, the
need to move towards 32-bit technology is paramount. The flexibility of award design and
the mobility of both staff and students demands the creation of a university standard
entity. Common services delivered anytime, anywhere is the goal that we will achieve,
hence an enterprise NT strategy.
Exp: What does the project involve?
JS: The project is the implementation of enterprise NT using Thin technologies
The pilot was started in March 1999 and by the end of year 2000 we will have delivered
enterprise NT with 1500 thin clients. Obviously during the pilot phase more applications
will be delivered using Thin protocols. This will ensure that we maximise the eventual
numbers of true Thin client users. We are currently evaluating how to deliver applications
designated as Thin onto a Thick platform. All applications, irrespective of their
Thin/Thick attributes, will be delivered automatically by the central I.T.S. department.
AJ: We are implementing an Enterprise NT solution which will deliver applications
to the end users by the most efficient method. Where appropriate, the solution is based on
thin client technologies from Citrix and Microsoft, using Microsoft terminal server as the
server operating system, Citrix Metaframe for load balancing and the ICA network protocol.
The Microsoft Office applications will be served using thin client, with some of the more
esoteric, faculty-specific applications running on local PCs. The desktop devices will
remain as PCs, allowing a hybrid client to be used where appropriate. The server
architecture uses multiple Unisys ES2043 servers connected to a highly available Unisys
Exp: What were the challenges that Unisys faced with this project?
AJ: With a more datacentric architecture, the integrity of the data is paramount.
In order to provide a highly available disk subsystem, we created a network-attached
storage solution based on our OSR storage devices RAID, Microsoft Cluster Services and
Redundant Cisco switches to create a highly available and performant data store. This is a
major project for UWE. They have to make far-reaching decisions which effect thousands of
users and so this type of project can carry a high degree of risk. This level of risk has
been considerably reduced by using the Unisys SystemFlow methodology.
Exp: And did Unisys face up to all of the challenges?
JS: Yes. Unisys recognised that the critical success factor was to treat this
project as a full Enterprise NT implementation involving massive project management and
change management issues which was exactly what I was looking for. The other suppliers
that tendered for the business saw the project as a technical problem. Unisys owns the
delivery of the full Enterprise NT project and works with us across all aspects of the
project delivery. Unisys have restored my faith that somewhere out there, there is a
company that actually understands partnership and the true business of System Integration
they do not see S.I. as an excuse to maximise their service business.
Exp: What will the new solution bring to UWE?
JS: Initiatives such as Life Long Learning require new methods of
delivering education. In order to compete in the emerging market, we have to find ways of
delivering IT services round-the-clock, every day of the year and anywhere in the world.
Thin client will be a critical component in achieving this objective. As far as the IT
infrastructure is concerned, my probability of success has gone up from 50% to 90%.
AJ: The solution allows UWE to improve service levels to users whilst reducing
costs. They can make better use of their IT spend, freeing up resources to be spent on
improving the quality of education. They have now been able to standardise on core
applications, giving a more consistent and effective support to their users. They are
better placed to use thin client technology to offer their education services to remote
users regardless of the power of the user PC device.
Exp: What level of support has Unisys offered during the project?
JS: The infrastructure being implemented incorporates many technologies including
NT Server, Cluster Server, IIS and Terminal Server (with Metaframe). We anticipated
problems, which would be normal with any large complex project involving new technologies,
but all the issues have been effectively dealt with through the relevant support channels.
Any U.W.E. problem automatically becomes a Unisys issue, which I think says a lot about
Unisys. They also appear to have excellent, established lines of communication into
Microsoft which is an extremely valuable resource. Although Unisys may not have been at
the true leading edge of thin client technology when the project started, they have,
however, supplied the resources necessary to quickly emerge as true thin client
professionals. I believe that as I.T. customers we are entitled to better service than
that provided by some global companies, these companies discuss partnerships
but in reality have no understanding of the term. Unisys has this understanding and I have
complete faith in their commitment and determination to make this project work.
John Saville and Andy Jordan were interviewed by Andy OBrien
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