Supporting meteoric business growth

How to relieve data center constraints and accommodate operational expansion.

It supports nearly 100,000 students. It offers 253 programs of study. And it boasts more than 6000 faculty and staff members. Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University is one of the most successful academic institutions in the United States. But it only recently reached such prominence, having experienced meteoric growth over the past several years.

“We delivered 160,000 credit hours in 2005,” says Matthew Zealand, Chief Information Officer of Liberty University. “In 2012, we are delivering over 1.3 million.”

This growth was greater than anticipated, Zealand admits. Much of it happened organically, and all of it happened faster than anyone envisioned.

“Growth impacts everything,” Zealand says. “More students necessitate more faculty, administrators, call center agents, financial specialists, you name it. And that means more IT systems and services to support them all.”

Unfortunately, Liberty University’s pre-existing technology infrastructure was not designed to sustain such growth. The largely physical environment was:

  • Nearing capacity
  • Struggling to support on-campus operations
  • Hindering an online learning program that was growing 25–30 percent each year

Online programs fuel enrollment increases
Much of Liberty University’s dramatic growth can be attributed to its online learning program. The increasingly popular curriculum now educates nearly 85,000 students in 95 countries, far outpacing the university’s 12,500 on-campus students.

“Our online learning program is a business-critical service we provide to our students,” explains Connie Allison, Enterprise IT Communication Liaison for Liberty University. “Any downtime results in student dissatisfaction and complaints, and it decreases our ability to maintain and increase enrollment. We can’t compete if our online systems are up and down.”

Because a majority of online students have never stepped foot on campus, the online learning program must also espouse the culture and mission of Liberty University.

“We need to maintain consistency in everything we do, whether it’s on campus or online,” says Zealand. “This primarily falls on the shoulders of our technology systems and services. We can’t proactively advance our programs, our enrollment, and our mission when we are reactively dealing with data center and application issues.”

To relieve data center constraints and support ongoing growth, Liberty University recently deployed the Cisco Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS®), which is based on Intel® Xeon® processors. Maximizing virtualization and consolidation, the infrastructure supports all university operations, from student and financial services to administrative and call center systems to classroom and online applications.

“Cisco UCS® has given us the flexibility, scalability, and stability we need to support our growth,” Allison says. “The Cisco network management tools allow us to see and address stress points before they become problems. We had nearly 10 hours of downtime the semester before we implemented Cisco UCS, but we haven’t had any downtime this semester.”

Instead of fixing problems, university administrators and IT staff can now focus on opportunities.

“In the past, we spent most of our time responding to incidents and issues,” Allison explains. “Now we can explore and implement new ideas, new student services, and new university resources.”

This has fostered a second wave of growth and development, she adds.

  • The university is in the process of building a state-of-the-art library, a center for cinematic arts, and a new baseball stadium.
  • Already the nation’s largest private, nonprofit educator, Liberty University also continues to expand its online learning curriculum and degrees.

“Enrollment growth places more strain and demand on everything, not just our network and application infrastructure,” says Zealand. “Cisco UCS has helped us relieve data center constraints, while allowing us to accommodate ongoing growth and focus on the future of our university.”

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