Majmaah University: Delivering straight A student services

To keep its students on the path to academic success, Majmaah University offers slick, easy-to-use e-learning and admin services built on a high-performance software-defined storage solution from Lenovo and Microsoft.
 
Whether it’s checking that a textbook is available in the faculty library or enrolling on a new course for next semester, students depend on online services to navigate university life nowadays. And that’s not to mention accessing course notes, lecture handouts and past exam papers from shared file systems.

Although today’s students often take these services for granted, expecting to be able to do anything and everything on their smartphones, not many appreciate what makes these services tick.

“Having a high-performance, reliable IT infrastructure is absolutely essential to delivering quality services to students and staff,” says Nashmy AL-Rasheedy, Head of the Operating Systems Department at Majmaah University.

MU is one of Saudi Arabia’s leading universities, founded in 2009 to meet growing demand for higher education across the country. Today, more than 16,000 students and 3,000 staff work on campus.

“Unfortunately, services were a little shaky over the last couple of years,” continues Nashmy AL-Rasheedy.

“The storage area network [SAN] systems supporting all of our student-facing and back-end applications, as well as our shared file system, were getting old and performance was patchy. On top of that, network bandwidth left a lot to be desired.”

This caused problems for students and staff trying to access applications and files: the interface was slow, took ages to load, and sometimes the connection would drop halfway through a task. Not ideal.

“I’d been reading a lot about software-defined storage, especially Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct [S2D],” comments Nashmy AL-Rasheedy. “It got us thinking: why don’t we do that?”

So they did! MU implemented seven Lenovo System x3650 M5 servers, all equipped with Intel® Xeon® E5 processors, as a single cloud configuration cluster for S2D. “We chose Lenovo servers and switches because they offered the best performance and reliability at the best price,” says Nashmy AL-Rasheedy. “What’s more, they were certified by Microsoft for S2D.”

He recalls: “The Lenovo team architected the solution to ensure maximum ROI, and we were then able to install the servers and build the cluster ourselves. The Lenovo team also helped us out a great deal with the switching and network configuration, which was great. Then we migrated all of our business applications, databases and files over to the Lenovo S2D cluster – our student information system, web portals, e-learning system, email server, ERP etc. – everything that keeps the university up and running.”

Performance has improved greatly since moving everything over to the Lenovo S2D cluster. Students and staff now have quick, reliable access to all the services they need. Signing up for a class online? Fast and simple. Downloading lecture notes onto your laptop? No more waiting around. Completing a course online? No problem.

Nashmy AL-Rasheedy comments: “Lots of student services were pretty slow before, which was frustrating for many. Now everybody can do what they need to whenever it suits them, quickly and easily. And that goes for staff as well as students!”

He concludes: “The project has been a great success. We would like to thank the management board of Majmaah University, the IT deanship staff and our Lenovo Business Partner, Ideal Network Solutions, for their contribution during the installation and for their continuous support.”
 
“We chose Lenovo servers and switches because they offered the best performance and reliability at the best price. What’s more, they were certified by Microsoft for S2D.”
– Nahsmy AL-Rasheedy, Head of Operating Systems Department, Majmaah University
 
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Solution components
Hardware
Lenovo System x3650 M5 with Intel® Xeon® E5 processors
Lenovo RackSwitch G8272
Lenovo RackSwitch G8052
IBM Tape Library TS3200 LT07 for Lenovo
 
Software
Lenovo XClarity
Microsoft Windows Server 2016 Datacenter Edition with Storage Spaces Direct
Microsoft Hyper-V
 
Students are no longer content with books, pens and paper. They expect to be able to check their timetable, their reading lists and their course requirements online; to sign up for classes in a few clicks; to share notes and essays in an instant. To deliver the services students want, fast, Majmaah University relies on a Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) software-defined storage solution from Lenovo and Microsoft.

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