University of New Mexico overhauls data center for advanced security needed for its R1 status.

From the invention of rocket fuel and the discovery of AIDS to the origination of the Internet, and to the current advances in genetics, today’s research (R1) universities drive new science and innovations that transform how we work and live.

As an R1 university, the University of New Mexico (UNM) is no exception. The university gives the highest priority to research, with the aim of presenting new knowledge and applications of value to academic communities and the public worldwide.

However, in order to achieve this laudable mission, UNM requires IT systems that are reliable, fast, nimble and offer the highest level of security. Achieving this level of IT optimization is no small challenge for any university.

R1 Means Advanced Security

To attain this, higher education institutions must occasionally make sweeping changes to existing infrastructure as systems grow older and less efficient. Such a process began at UNM about three years ago, when the University determined that its data center network needed a complete overhaul to provide improved security.

With 31,000 students and 9,100 faculty and staff under UNM’s care, maintaining this level of security is a massive undertaking. Not only does the University need to protect the data of each individual student, it must ensure that every bit of research material—an astronomical amount of data—is highly secured as well.

To begin with, the underlying infrastructure was simply not in place, and required an enormous endeavor to fix. UNM also wanted to move from a hardware-defined datacenter to a software-defined datacenter (SDDC). UNM decided that automated configuration and management of the pooled, vendor-independent hardware allows for the best price/performance choices for the underlying physical infrastructure.

(Next page: Choosing network virtualization and the case for software networks)

Opting for Network Virtualization

To handle the magnitude of its current and future activities, UNM chose to incorporate VMware NSX, a network virtualization platform that delivers the operational model of a virtual machine for the network by abstracting, pooling and automating networking for the SDDC. Similar to virtual machines for compute, virtual networks are programmatically provisioned and managed independent of the underlying network hardware.

By fully virtualizing the network on top of whatever networking hardware UNM chooses, VMware NSX allows the university significantly improve security through micro-segmentation, and multi-tenancy to host multiple departments, labs, and even University administration to be securely on the same cloud infrastructure.

Entire Networks in Software

Unlike traditional hardware-defined solutions, VMware NSX let organizations like UNM create entire networks in software as well as bring security into the data center with automated fine-grained policies that are tied to virtual machines. This approach securely isolates networks from each other, delivering a more sound security model for the data center. Best of all, once provisioned, security policy moves with the VM wherever it is moved within the data center, simplifying security operations and minimizing risk from having to make manual changes to the physical network,

Furthermore, VMware NSX keeps applications up and running and helps maintain the availability of applications by dramatically improving disaster recovery time objectives by eliminating the need to re-IP workloads and re-configure security policies at the recovery site.

The effort also proved to have quicker deployment times with lower costs. For example, when a department needs a system, they no longer have to order the system, wait three weeks, and provision it. Now the entire process involves logging onto a self-service portal and clicking a few buttons, which might take only 20 minutes.

It also allows UNM to meet compliance requirements much easier in a streamlined and less expensive fashion, while also decreasing associated manual labor.

With their new “game-changer” solution in place, UNM can continue to be “game-changers” themselves when it comes to inventions and discoveries that will change our world.

About the Author:

Tim Merrigan is the National Director of State & Local Government and Education for VMware, specializing in virtualization and cloud infrastructure solutions for higher education.

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