Shared infrastructure to enhance IT services

How can universities expand their IT infrastructures and services while remaining committed to their mandate?

Text: Konrad O. Jaggi, published on 08.03.2016

While IT is becoming a more and more important backbone service, it is also required to perform an increasingly broad variety of tasks. One of the solutions many universities are looking into to handle these challenges are hybrid services that closely integrate with their existing infrastructures. Our discussions with universities show clearly that, in addition to technical requirements, these solutions must fulfil various criteria in terms of governance, control and also trustworthiness.

Developed for academic community

Since its very beginning, SWITCH has specialised in providing complementary IT services in close partnership with universities. Services were traditionally provided at network level and have recently evolved to include computing and storage services. Starting with SWITCHengines (see text box), SWITCHdrive and SWITCHfilesender, there will be more specialised services to come. All these services were developed to address the special
requirements of the SWITCH academic community and are fully hosted in Switzerland in data centres at Swiss universities.

While many service providers start and end with technical features, the following points are very important to SWITCH and its academic community, the goal being to support the institution’s IT professionals in multiple dimensions.

The most important one is community competence. Institutions of the SWITCH community participate in the design and further development of service offerings. This allows all to generate knowledge that can be exchanged and shared. SWITCH’s deep understanding of specific needs also allows it to provide better support for academic IT departments and their users.

During the development of the services with the community, one thing became very obvious: by combining its core competencies, SWITCH can create services that add value and can easily be integrated into a university’s service catalogue and processes. The three key aspects of this integrated offering are:

  • Network integration
  • Tailored security features and know-how
  • Identity management

The high-performance network SWITCHlan with speeds of up to 100 Gbit/s is the powerful basis for fast data transfer. Taking this one step further, we will be able to embed SWITCHengines seamlessly into universities’ networks via the Virtual Private Cloud.

With regard to security, all services profit from having a strong SWITCH security team in-house. The infrastructure is constantly monitored for possible security breaches.

Finally, the services are accessible via the existing SWITCHaai and the next-generation Swiss edu-ID, meaning that they are compatible with the most accepted and broadly used identity management system in Swiss academia. It also means that access can be finely tuned and that universities can control processes for usage and governance, and it allows institutions to keep full oversight over usage and costs as well as governance of key service aspects. Together with Swiss data hosting this assures that data processing is in compliance with relevant Swiss laws and regulation.

In this issue of the SWITCH Journal, users of SWITCHengines and SWITCHdrive describe their personal experience as well as specific reasons for using these services (see article "Virtual services with real benefits"). How services like these are designed with the community is described in the article "SWITCHdrive: building a service together".

To address the most promising development topics, SWITCH is taking part in the SUC P-2 programme with the SCALE-UP project, collaborating with nine universities to build additional scientific services on top of our infrastructure. The spectrum ranges from «Data Pools» to «Big Data», «Classroom in the Cloud» services and extended infrastructure elements like «Rating, Charging, Billing» (see article "Letting researchers focus on research").

We also present the current situation and future vision for seamlessly embedding SWITCHengines in an institution via Virtual Private Network (see article "Virtual machines for central IT"). Interestingly, libraries are also starting to use these SWITCH services (see article "Building a long-term archive").

The new services presented here are the first in a range with more to come. All of them are created with the deep know-how and passion of SWITCH staff and with invaluable help from the community.

This article appeared in the SWITCH Journal March 2016.
About the author
Konrad O.   Jaggi

Konrad O. Jaggi

After studying in Zurich and Aberdeen (UK), Konrad O. Jaggi managed several IT and information departments as well as a number of strategic planning projects. At SWITCH he led various teams and is currently responsible for the outreach of SWITCHengines.


Infrastructure services by SWITCHengines

SWITCHengines is at the heart of our offering for hybrid IT infrastructures. It is built and deployed as an OpenStack-based community cloud service for higher education in Switzerland. The infrastructure has been growing constantly, starting with an eight-server test environment and scaling up to 120 servers in 2015. The project to create SWITCHengines as a national service was co-funded by the SUC P-2 programme.

The long list of real-world use cases of SWITCHengines includes computing of earthquake or glacial flow simulations, cancer research, Monte Carlo calculations, machine learning and much more.

SWITCHengines has seen over 70'000 virtual machines (VMs) started and decommissioned to date, and more than 1'000 VMs are active at any given time.

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