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back to case studies main menuCase Studies - The shape of thins to come
(Sept 1999)
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.

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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 UWE’s 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 UWE’s IT Director, John Saville (JS) and Unisys’ UK Marketing Manager for NT Programmes, Andy Jordan (AJ) to find out about the project.

Exp: What made you decide to change the existing IT structure?

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?

The project is the implementation of enterprise NT using Thin technologies where appropriate.

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.

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 disk subsystem.

Exp: What were the challenges that Unisys faced with this project?

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?

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?

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%.

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?

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 O’Brien
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