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University College London (UCL) was one of the first universities in the world to become involved in making scientific observations in space. Since Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) was set up in 1966 it has taken part in more than 35 satellite missions and over 200 rocket experiments.
Located at Holmbury St. Mary near Dorking in Surrey, MSSL (now also the Department of Space and Climate Physics) occupies a small campus site, and is the only department in the faculty to be primarily based outside London. Its three buildings are filled with ultra-modern laboratories in which scientists and engineers work together to make sure that instruments are as relevant and competitive as possible. This extensive capability underpins a world-leading science programme in astrophysics, planetary, solar and space plasma physics and climate extremes.
In common with many organisations, MSSL’s IT network had grown rapidly over the last few years in response to the increasingly complex demands of its users. This had led it to become cumbersome and overloaded. Paul Lamb, Head of Computing, UCL MSSL explains:
“The demand for ever more bandwidth from our users to support their projects was overwhelming our network. It just couldn’t keep up and was becoming increasingly time consuming to look after to the point we were concerned that it may have come to a grinding halt.”
In looking at its options for the future, MSSL’s IT team had identified a specific type of networking technology, known as Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL), that it wanted to incorporate in any potential solution.
Alan Brown, Network Manager, UCL MSSL continues:
“Having a TRILL based network was particularly important for us. Essentially it’s a way of utilising all backbone circuits without the complexity of bonding and the disruption caused by Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) storms.”
With a clear view of what it was looking for, MSSL started looking around to find vendors who were selling the type of switching equipment that would fit the bill. Its in-house IT knowledge meant that each one could be fully evaluated and bench-tested before making a decision.
Although the process took place over nine months, Huawei soon stood out from the others in terms of the advice and support it was prepared to offer at the pre-sales stage. This allowed a full bench test of the TRILL and 802.1x functionality before ordering, a major factor in the smooth deployment of the solution.
“The team at Huawei seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing and the very specific technical requirements we had. They took the time to understand what we do as an organisation and used this knowledge to make sure its solution would do what we wanted. Our experience with the other vendors wasn’t nearly as good and it made our decision a lot easier,” comments Andy Fenney, IT Developer, UCL MSSL.
Huawei’s solution is built on a mix of its CloudEngine 5800 and 6800 series data centre switches, which are designed to provide scalable, high performance throughput in campus environments and deliver the TRILL networking so important to MSSL. These are complimented by Huawei’s S5700 Series Switches, enabling Gbit/s access for wired and wireless devices across the network.
As a parallel project, MSSL also took the opportunity to replace its aging wireless network with a new Huawei solution based on a mix of Huawei’s AC6605 802.11ac Wi-Fi access controller supporting a total of 120 access points.
Given the critical and sensitive nature of the work MSSL does, it was crucial that any break in service during the installation of the new network was kept to an absolute minimum.
“We installed the new network ourselves and in reality there was virtually no down time. One piece of specialist end-user equipment more than twenty years old even worked first time. A couple of things played up, but nothing of any significance and we knew that the Huawei support team was always there to help if we needed them,” says Alan Brown.
As is often the case, the real value MSSL’s new IT network brings to the organisation is almost invisible to end users. The main changes noticed by them are faster speeds and less need to contact the IT team to sort out problems; things they have quickly come to take for granted. For the IT team, however, the benefits have been a lot more tangible.
Andy Fenney comments: “It’s not possible for us to quantify specific cost savings because of the way we do things but we do spend a lot less time chasing around dealing with problems. It means we have a lot more time to be pro-active in our management of the network. The system is also much more secure and very flexible. People are able to move equipment around and it will recognise them and reconfigure itself accordingly – again saving us time and giving users a seamless experience.”Being part of a university MSSL is very conscious of the need to be prudent in how it spends public money. It has been very impressed by the way Huawei has helped it do just that. Although budgets will continue to be tight for the foreseeable future, it has no doubt that it will look at Huawei again for future purchases.
“We would never have received a network of this quality for the price we paid if we’d gone with anyone else. Effectively we have three times more power than the most expensive vendor we looked at, for half the price. It’s also meant that we have been able to future-proof it for years to come,” concludes Paul Lamb.
Huawei Enterprise Business Group (“Huawei Enterprise”) is one of the three business groups of Huawei, a leading global Information and Communications Technology (ICT) solutions provider. Leveraging Huawei’s strong R&D capabilities and comprehensive technical expertise, Huawei Enterprise provides a wide range of highly efficient customer-centric ICT solutions and services to global vertical industry and enterprise customers across government and public sector, finance, transportation, electric power, energy, commercial businesses, and ISPs. Huawei Enterprise’s innovative and leading solutions cover network infrastructure, Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC), cloud computing and data center, enterprise information security, and industry application solutions.
For more information, please visit: e.huawei.com/uk
UCL’s Department of Space and Climate Physics, known as Mullard Space Science Laboratory or MSSL, is a world-leading research organisation and is the UK’s largest university-based space research group. MSSL delivers a broad, cutting-edge science programme, underpinned by a strong capability in space science instrumentation, space-domain engineering, space medicine, systems engineering and project management. Its scientific research ranges from cosmology and the study of extra-galactic objects, to studies of the Sun, the planets and their moons, the Earth, and humans working and living in space. It is supported through UK research councils, the UK Space Agency, European and other grants and contracts.
For more information, please visit: ucl.ac.uk/mssl