Business: Supporting economic growth in Milton Keynes
The Open University’s mission is to be open to people, places, methods and ideas. It promotes educational opportunity and social justice by providing high-quality university education to all who wish to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.
Through academic research, pedagogic innovation and collaborative partnership it seeks to be a world leader in the design, content and delivery of supported open learning.
Towards the end of 2013, Milton Keynes Council approached The Open University to assist with a tender for the three-year MK:Smart research initiative, which aims to support economic growth in Milton Keynes.
“Milton Keynes is one of the UK’s fastest growing cities,” explains Paul Alexander, Technical Operations Lead for the MK:Smart project. “Our challenge is in minimising strain on the infrastructure as the city grows.”
The initiative kicked off in January 2014, led by The Open University. The MK Data Hub is a sophisticated data management platform that can process vast amounts of data relevant to city systems. It was primarily designed by The Open University and BT and is being hosted in the heart of the city, by the University of Bedfordshire, at University Campus Milton Keynes (UCMK).
The Data Hub provides an infrastructure for acquiring, managing and sharing multiple terabytes of data sourced from city systems. It will hold data about energy and water consumption, transport, weather and pollution sourced from satellite technology, sensor networks, social and economic datasets, social media and specialised apps.
The MK Data Hub will process the data then make it available to developers and SMEs. They will be able to search a catalogue of available data feeds to ‘feed’ applications, start up a virtual machine to develop applications, and buy/sell applications or data feeds via the service management platform.
Challenge: Data availability key to success
One of MK:Smart’s aims is to encourage third parties to build applications that make use of the data within the MK Data Hub, and citizens to adopt those applications to optimise their use of the city’s resources.
“We need to ensure the data is constantly available for any project using the information feeds in their own application and for the people running those applications,” explains Alexander. “Our team needs historical data to be available so we can analyse trends.”
Securing the data the initiative relies on is challenging. The various elements of the project acquire their data from diverse sources and store it across numerous data stores, including MySQL, Progress and Microsoft SQL Server. Furthermore, the data stores are made accessible through a storage area network (SAN).
With the initiative continually evolving and uncovering new sources to draw data from, MK:Smart needed a heterogeneous and scalable recovery management solution. “We needed a solution that could both back up and recover data over a SAN,” notes Alexander.
Solution: Backup and recovery for a heterogeneous environment
After extensive research into all available backup and recovery solutions, Alexander and his team decided to implement Arcserve Unified Data Protection (UDP) in partnership with NCE Computer Group. “Arcserve UDP was the only solution able to recover data over a SAN,” reveals Alexander. “It also offered the support for a heterogeneous environment we needed.”
NCE ensured that that KMI had the licences it needed both for the initial proof of concept and subsequent deployment, which helped keep the project on track as it gained momentum.
A successful proof of concept demonstrated compression rates of 40 per cent and deduplication rates of 30 per cent. “We expect deduplication rates to increase further as we take more data on board,” acknowledges Alexander.
“Rates this high mean we can retain backups for longer and access data and logs for longer – which is crucial with a research initiative where you need to analyse all issues that transpire.”
MK:Smart’s technical operations team implemented the core Arcserve UDP in less than three days then fine-tuned it to optimise backup and recovery capabilities across its diverse data stores. The solution safeguards data across 12 virtual servers and six physical servers, protecting not only data sourced from the city’s systems, but also Microsoft Exchange mailboxes and Active Directory accounts, data produced by applications, file stores and web servers.
“We will rely on cloud solutions to provide any additional resources required at peak demand,” notes Alexander.
Every Friday Arcserve UDP automatically backs up the entire MK Data Hub in less than 30 minutes. Incremental backups are run on weekdays at multiple intervals throughout the day and last no more than 10 minutes. Backups are replicated to a disaster recovery site elsewhere in Milton Keynes.
Benefit: Safeguarding the city's data
The Arcserve solution is helping to maximise the availability of the MK Data Hub, safeguarding the reputation – and ultimately the success – of the MK:Smart initiative. The technical operations team can now ensure the timely backup and recovery of data across the initiative’s diverse and ever-expanding SAN-connected data stores.
“Our recovery is as quick as our backup,” confirms Alexander. “Arcserve UDP has a unique ability to restore data over a SAN, which means it can recover our virtual machines as fast as it can back them up – in less than 10 minutes.”
The solution’s easy-to-use interface and agentless backups means it spends less than 10 minutes a day managing backups. As Alexander notes, “Arcserve UDP’s interface is set out logically and is a pleasure to use. It tells you clearly where any issues are so you can address them straight away.”
As a result, the Arcserve UDP solution has enabled MK:Smart to:
Alexander concludes, “With Arcserve UDP we can ensure the MK:Smart data remains continuously available to developers and citizens – which is critical to protecting its reputation and ensuring its success.”
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