Physical Server Data Center
As Clark University experienced continued growth in their user network and the adoption of virtualization gathered pace, they required a reliable, easy to manage and cost-effective virtual load balancing solution that could ensure critical applications were kept highly available with minimal disruption to the application experience being delivered to end users.
Since 2013, Clark University had Kemp hardware deployed in their environment and were very happy with the performance levels achieved and the excellent support offered by Kemp. With the drive towards vitalization and Kemp’s unique platform ubiquity across hardware, virtual and cloud environments, the choice of upgrading to Kemp’s Virtual LoadMaster was an easy decision.
Clark University deployed Virtual LoadMasters in front of their private servers which sit in clusters managed by Microsoft Hyper-V. Deployed initially to take over the role of the hardware units by providing redundancy for their Exchange environment, the Virtual LoadMasters are now also load balancing the majority of Clark’s critical applications such as Skype for Business and their higher-education ERP system.
Founded in the 1880s, Clark University is one of America’s oldest graduate universities, with a long and distinguished pedigree of academic achievement. Its past researchers include the first US Nobel Prize winner in the sciences and Robert Goddard, father of the space age and the inventor of rocket technology. Clark – which has over 200 teaching staff and more than 3,000 students – is continuing this legacy of innovation. Recent faculty members led the United Nations program to combat HIV-AIDS and the Earth Transformed project on environmental sustainability.
The pressure to support Clark’s vital work falls on Manager of Systems Administration Aaron Bennett, who is responsible for the university’s enterprise-level computing systems. With his team of four systems administrators, Bennett has placed Kemp load balancers at the heart of Clark’s 50- server data center at its campus in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Clark aims to get the most out of its infrastructure by running clusters of virtualized servers, managed by Microsoft Hyper-V, consisting of over 185 virtual machines which support multiple operating systems and applications. “We don't have a preferred architecture,” Bennett explained, “We believe in using the right tools for the right job.”
Clark’s chosen apps now include Banner – the world’s leading higher-education ERP system –Microsoft Exchange and Office 365, the Java-based CAS authentication service and Skype for Business, all running across a 5,000-user network.
Fronting this, Clark initially installed Kemp LoadMaster hardware appliances in 2013, then upgraded three years later to Kemp Virtual LoadMasters (VLM) as its drive to virtualization gathered pace. Today, the Kemp LoadMasters play an increasingly central role in managing the workload across its most business-critical systems.
The original LoadMasters were installed to provide redundancy when Clark moved to an Exchange email solution, controlled by a centralized ADFS (Active Directory Federation Services) single sign-on system. The Kemp VLMs took over this role, but now also load-balance almost all of Clark’s virtualized workloads including its main portal, Banner, Exchange, CAS and Skype for Business.
“We got Kemp largely because we needed redundancy in the ADFS environment, but the apps handled by Kemp have grown and grown. When you have a tool that works well, it’s simple and well-supported, you use it. Kemp is handling a huge percentage of the things we have that are highly visible.”
In particular, the Kemp load balancers have opened Clark’s eyes to the benefits of load balancing. Bennett said: “If we got redundancy for our Exchange environment from Kemp, that was enough. But it’s lifted up substantially higher than that. It’s proved to be our full load balancing solution. I really think load balancing is a must for any enterprise larger than a small business where you can’t physically talk to all the people who are going to be affected by an outage.”
The Kemp load balancers also compare well against rival products, he said. “We did some work with the Windows load balancer before and it’s not a real load balancer, it’s not Layer 7 aware and you can’t do SSL termination.” In contrast: “Kemp is affordable, high-quality and it’s well supported. It’s reliable. It doesn’t crash, it’s well documented and it’s easy to use.”
But what Bennett values most highly is Kemp’s service. “The best thing about Kemp is their support is excellent,” he said. “The product is consistently updated, the website works, you call them and they respond. They’re a pleasure to deal with. We continue to be happy customers.”
The Kemp solutions have provided both financial and operational benefits, Bennett said. They keep Clark’s key commercial apps running, and operationally they guarantee system availability, while any urgent repairs or software patching can be done straightaway, even during working hours.
As Bennett said: “The next time we need to stop everything and apply these patches – the sort of fire-drill that seems to be more and more frequent – then we can do that.” He concluded: “I had high hopes for Kemp and they’ve been satisfied. The product has a well-thought-out, well-architected interface. It’s a robust, fully realized solution. Anything I’ve wanted it to do it’s been able to do.”
“We have put our servers in a private network behind the Kemp load balancers, the load balancers pass the traffic to them, and we’re very happy with that solution.”