Salford University CIO puts chemistry before tech

University of Salford tech chief Derek Drury says the IT team is what really counts...

...management skills are key.

As for strategy, Drury is looking ahead to address the changing needs of the university and its students by getting the right technology in place and the right people in to implement and develop it.

"It's about seeing what's coming over the horizon, making sure you're in a position where you can cope with that and making sure you've got a team around you that can deal with the plans that are coming up. And that inevitably means that sometimes you have to change the team, you have to move the skills around. If you can't train them in, you've got to buy them in."

He added that ensuring the IT department has the right skills as different technologies ebb and flow in importance is also a key part of his job.

"It's about getting that mix right. There's no doubt about it that the skills mix we're now dealing with, to where we were two years ago, is totally different, just by changing the technology. Did I have anybody in the team [two years ago] who knew anything about virtual servers, for instance?"

IT transformation through a new datacentre

The University of Salford is preparing for a big jump in its technology capability with a major transformation project.

Much like his former boss at the Co-operative Group, Ian Dyson, Drury is overseeing the construction of a new datacentre to provide a technology infrastructure suitable for a 21st-century university.

Drury admitted that IT investment had previously been patchy at the university, with the single existing datacentre delivering poor service and "in great danger of collapse".

Having just a single datacentre also meant there was no failover, so more than 20,000 students and 3,500 staff would have no service if the facility went down. "To run all that through one datacentre with no failovers was a bit tricky at times, to say the least," Drury said.

The university therefore took the decision in June 2009 "to go for broke" and build a new £5.7m datacentre with Unisys and to modernise the existing facility to put in place a more resilient and functional infrastructure.

The new datacentre is located at the university's health campus while the original facility, located at the university library, has been stripped out and filled with new equipment.

The two facilities are located far enough away from each other - separated by a couple of roads and a railway line - to provide adequate distance if one them becomes inaccessible for any reason.

The project has consolidated the 300 physical servers in the original datacentre down to 45 through the extensive use of virtualisation. However, several physical servers remain, because they run high input-output databases and other systems that would be slowed down by virtualisation.

The university has spent about a further £3m upgrading other parts of its infrastructure to make sure it can get...