Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) was the first university to be founded in Germany after World War II. Since its opening in 1965, RUB has become one of the largest universities in the country. With its 20 faculties, it houses a broad range of disciplines — from natural and engineering sciences, through life sciences and medicine, to humanities and social sciences.
RUB owes its success in research to the close links between the disciplines on campus. Researchers at RUB pursue interdisciplinary research projects in nine research departments. In addition, RUB has an excellent international network. More than 300 partnerships have been established between RUB’s institutes and faculties and educational institutions in other countries. Around 1,000 international PhD students and visiting researchers are currently working in Bochum.
As with other universities around the world, the COVID-19 19 crisis massively changed everyday life for RUB faculty and students. Almost all teaching and examination events took place online; employees in research, teaching and administration did a large part of their work from home; staff and committee meetings were also held digitally.
“Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, digitization had played an important role for us. Nevertheless, it was of course an enormous challenge for everyone to switch to completely digital processes within a very short period of time,” says Marcus Klein, Deputy Director of IT.SERVICES at RUB.
The IT organization introduced already before the pandemic a universitywide Moodle learning platform for managing lectures and exams. At the same time, the university expanded its Opencast infrastructure to provide audio and video content centrally for all students. In addition, new solutions for digital communication and collaboration were added, such as the Zoom video conferencing software.
“Particularly for our centrally operated IT services, the demands on availability increased during the pandemic,” says Marc Stuckenbröker, Team Leader for Virtualization and Infrastructure at IT.SERVICES. Students and lecturers, as well as employees in research and administration, depend on always having access to their applications and data. Outages — during exams, for example — must be avoided at all costs. And if a disruption does occur, the IT organization must be able to make the affected systems available again as quickly as possible. “This is precisely why we need a powerful backup solution in the background,” says Klein.
In the new situation, the use of Veeam® Backup & Replication™ paid off for RUB. The IT organization uses the data protection solution to ensure highly available operation of almost all virtual and physical workloads running in the two data centers on the university campus. “Before the pandemic, we had reached limits with our previous backup solution, IBM Spectrum Protect, and had often had to wait a very long time to restore failed systems,” explains Klein. “After a successful proof-of-concept with IT service provider Concat AG in cooperation with Veeam, we then decided to switch to Veeam — and have never regretted that decision since.”
Today, the IT department uses Veeam Backup & Replication to back up more than 1,000 virtual machines of the clustered VMware vSphere infrastructure and around 30 physical servers. Core applications for university operations include digital learning platforms such as Moodle and Opencast, as well as Microsoft communication and collaboration services such as Exchange and SharePoint. Master images for 600 virtual desktops are also backed up with Veeam. The total backup volume amounts to over 600 terabytes of data.
The IT service provider supported RUB in the planning and implementation of Veeam Backup & Replication. The entire data backup infrastructure was designed with redundancy. Two Dell EMC Data Domain systems are used as backup repositories. RUB benefits from the fact that Veeam supports Dell EMC’s Data Domain Boost technology. The main advantages of this integration are an optimized deduplication process, less load on the network and up to 15 times faster backups. At the same time, Veeam enables end-toend encryption of the backed-up data.
Dell EMC’s Retention Lock feature was also activated for one of the two Data Domain systems. This ensures that data backed up with Veeam cannot be changed or deleted until a defined point in time. Manipulation of the backup data — by ransomware, for example — is thus ruled out. “When the university actually fell victim to an attack with encryption software in the spring of 2020, we were ultimately able to restore the affected systems completely from the data backup,” says Klein. “This situation made it clear to us once again that such security precautions are absolutely necessary.”
When a virtual machine fails, system administrators usually use Veeam’s Instant VM Recovery® technology for fast recovery. “For us, this has become a real key feature,” says Stuckenbröker. “We can use it to immediately restore workloads to our production environment by running them directly from the backup files. As a result, we reduce the recovery time to a few minutes — a significant improvement over the solution we were using before. Previously, we used to be busy for many hours with a recovery.”
IT staff also save a great deal of time when restoring individual application objects such as files, emails and data from databases. For this, RUB uses Veeam Explorer for Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, SQL Server and Oracle. “For example, if an employee accidentally deletes an email, we don’t have to restore a 100 gigabyte recovery database. With Veeam Explorer, we simply locate the email in our backup file and make it available to the user with a few clicks.”
Recoveries of databasees work just as quickly and easily. Every now and then, SQL databases need to be reset to a specific point in time. With Veeam Explorer for Microsoft SQL Server, the system administrator can select the desired time via a simple slider and start the recovery. Veeam Explorer’s fine-tuning option even allows the database to be reset to the exact time before a single transaction.
“With Veeam Backup & Replication, we have taken the availability of centrally provided IT services to a whole new level,” sums up Klein. “Regardless of whether it’s a single file, a virtual machine or a physical server — we can react very quickly to any problems and are able to offer our users the best possible service. Therefore, we are also well prepared to take the next steps in the digital transformation of the university.”
Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) is one of the ten largest universities in Germany. Around 43,000 students from over 130 countries are enrolled at the 20 faculties. With almost 6,000 full-time employees, RUB is also the largest employer in Bochum.
For teaching and scientific research, RUB has always been relying on a variety of innovative technologies. During the COVID-19 crisis, the range of digital services was significantly expanded to allow university operations to continue. This further increased the demands on IT availability.