RMD and Schneider Electric add an Edge to Education at the University of Lincoln

Established around 25 years ago, the University of Lincoln is one of the newest centres of academia in the UK. Charged with enriching the city’s economic, social and cultural life, the university has been adding new buildings to its city-centre campus at a rate of around one per year since its inception. Listed in the world’s top 130 in the Times Higher Education’s (THE) Young University Rankings 2022, today it is also one of the top universities for student satisfaction.

The main university campus is situated in one of the world’s great historic cities, in the heart of the city of Lincoln. Today, Lincoln is a winning combination of old meets new, where remnants of Roman Britain, a Norman castle and the Cathedral Quarter lay alongside a vibrant city square and the contemporary architecture of the university’s campus buildings, providing both student accommodation and housing for its Arts, Science, and Social Science colleges, as well as an International Business School and Medical School.

To date, the university has constructed or acquired 25 buildings at a rate of approximately one per year, recently opening a substantial new student village. In terms of its significance to the local economy, out of every five people you might stop in the streets of Lincoln City, one is likely to be studying at the university, where just under two hundred different courses are offered (independent numbers suggest 18,000 students of a total 103,000 urban population).

As an academic institution that has more or less been conceived and grown up in the Internet Age, its student population is tech-literate, and the university depends heavily on IT to support the many faces of college life. For example, the campus has become largely cashless in recent years. “You can’t buy a cup of coffee or a sandwich if the IT isn’t working,” said Darran Coy, senior infrastructure analyst and team leader for the Compute and Storage team at the university. “Everything has to work 24 x 7.”

With IT and network uptime critical for the function of the university, the university’s IT team supports a variety of services, some of which require large amounts of data storage and processing. For instance, at Lincoln Agri-Robotics (LAR), established at Lincoln University as the world’s first global centre of excellence in agricultural robotics, lightweight robotic vehicles are sent into fields for a variety of tasks, using image recognition in applications from the identification and eradication of pests and diseases in real time without synthetic pesticides, to monitoring, weeding and harvesting crops.

Elsewhere, Darran Coy says many of the standard applications used by students and the university itself have moved to a Software as a Service (SaaS) or cloud-based delivery model. Accordingly, downtime is a luxury the university simply cannot afford. “In times past we could arrange to shut down IT systems on, say, a Thursday morning to carry out essential maintenance and upgrades, and of course our weekends were completely free,” he said. “But today many of our buildings are open all day and every day. So we have to make sure that everything is up and running all the time.”

The Challenge of Reliability at the Edge

“We open a new building nearly every year,” said Darran Coy, “and each one needs its own comms room. Despite the fact that we operate a central data centre, each comms room is populated with IT racks, including servers and networking equipment, together with all the necessary supporting infrastructure, including cooling, structured cabling, power distribution (PDUs) and power protection. It is the epitome of edge computing.”

These edge environments, distributed across the city centre campus and satellite campuses at Riseholme and Holbeach, provide wi-fi connectivity, enabling access to SaaS applications required by students and staff. These edge facilities are, therefore, mission-critical to academic and back-office operations. Each person has a unique IP address, allowing them, e.g., to print documents and materials. Even those studying traditional subjects like Geography and Music use as much technology as the Computer Scientists, according to Coy.

“We have something like 1000 teaching groups that rely on AV, for example – they’ve got big screens, sound systems and digital projectors, all kinds of cool stuff to enliven lectures and make information more consumable.” The university is also a major user of Power over Ethernet (PoE). “All of our access points use PoE,” continued Darran Coy. “And it’s also used to power other assets such as Raspberry Pi operated digital information displays widely used around the campus and security cameras. PoE requirements increase the need for reliable power in all situations.”

Like many universities, Lincoln works with outside companies on research projects as well as providing incubation services for innovations which may have wider market appeal. These sorts of activities are income-generating for Lincoln, and therefore, the IT which supports them needs to be robust and demonstrably resilient.

Power reliability is, therefore, a major challenge for the university. Given its location in the city centre, the utility is generally dependable, and since prolonged power blackouts are not seen as a major threat, there is no provision for secondary power generation to any of the university facilities. However, intermittent disruptions do occur to the main power supply, and there are occasional ‘brownouts.’ Taken together, these are recurring problems which could present a threat to continuous uptime.

Consequently, the university depends heavily on uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems to build resilience into its network. UPS systems provide battery backup in the event of a disruption to mains power so that essential functions can continue operating as normal until mains power is restored. Given the distributed nature of the edge IT infrastructure around the college, there has been a substantial wide variety of UPS systems in place. Currently, there are 110 APC Smart-UPS systems from Schneider Electric providing backup to essential assets.

Given the lack of power-generating equipment at the university, UPS is specified with battery systems to deliver one hour’s runtime for the attached load. It had been the custom to add UPS support on an ad hoc basis as new buildings were built and fitted out with IT. In the early days, there was no systematic or co-ordinated approach to deploying UPS systems and in fact it was only the loss of expensive IT equipment in the early days which made their use standard.

“The distributed edge nature of the university’s IT infrastructure in the university and the ongoing expansion with new buildings, together with the growth in dependence upon SaaS and cloud services, has sometimes meant that infrastructure has not always kept up with demand. We faced two tasks – the need to maintain and upgrade existing UPS systems to ensure they could deliver the required runtime and the need to meet the provision of new Schneider Electric UPS and installation services in new construction projects. To help us, we partnered with RMD UK.”

RMD and Schneider Electric are the Solutions for Reliable Edge

Darran Coy and team began their relationship with RMD UK over a decade ago when the Schneider Electric Elite partner won a tender for the replacement of some aging APC Smart-UPS On-Line SRT units on site. Soon after, the university took the step to implement a programme to ensure regular inspection and maintenance of the UPS devices on which it is so dependent. “In many respects, Schneider Electric is a victim of its own success – the UPS were so reliable and worked so well we hadn’t really realised that many of them were well past their use-by date!”

Opting for a systematic approach to securing power by contracting with a specialist UPS service provider, RMD UK was selected on the basis of an open tender. Based on various single- and three-phase UPS systems from Schneider Electric, the approach to maintenance has since become much more proactive. RMD’s Scot Docherty said, “Our start point was to understand the condition of the UPS under contract using a simple traffic light scheme – there were a lot of red lights!”

Together, Coy and RMD started to renew the UPS and bring them up to spec. This ongoing programme covers the UPS installed in buildings as well as adding UPS protection to some of the older campus buildings, which had never had the benefit of protection. In addition to the maintenance and modernisation services, RMD were also tasked to work with construction contractors to support them with sourcing and the installation of UPS to ensure power protection of edge server rooms in the new buildings.

The expertise of RMD has yielded benefits to the university, from procurement of UPS systems to maintenance and replacement, allowing the university to match new UPS systems to the exact requirements needed in each location.

“We’ve found it useful to involve RMD at the construction phase of each new building,” said Coy. “Sometimes a main contractor might recommend a UPS system that is wholly excessive to what we really need. Whereas RMD, which has specialist expertise in the field, is much better placed to recommend what sort of UPS system we need and how many battery packs should be installed. So, it’s great to have a relationship which allows us to “right-size” our UPS requirements and therefore keep an eye on the efficiency and effectiveness of the proposed solution.”

The RMD relationship has made for a more systematic and regular approach to maintenance. “RMD knows us and our requirements and how we work,” said Darran Coy. “Now, instead of waiting until something dies before replacing it, we have an ongoing system of regular maintenance and of replacing batteries and UPS units in accordance with their condition rather than their age.”

Two other important measures have been implemented as a result of the relationship. Firstly, the installation of monitoring software; using Data Center Expert – part of Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IT data centre infrastructure management solution, Darran Coy is now able to manage and monitor all elements of the data centre infrastructure, including UPS and cooling centrally, to ensure maximum efficiency and reliability.

Data Center Expert provides a scalable monitoring software solution that collects, organizes, and distributes critical device information to provide a comprehensive view of equipment. Importantly, the application provides instant fault notifications for quick assessment and resolution of critical infrastructure events that could adversely affect IT system availability.

The software gives Darran Coy’s small team of six full visibility of infrastructure equipment spread widely across the campus in different edge locations, with the ability to prioritise remedial tasks in the event of unforeseen circumstances and respond more quickly to events.

Secondly, and further demonstrating how RMD’s expertise has benefitted the university, bypass panels as an aid to maintenance and replacement activities are now being installed as standard in the electrical design for infrastructure supporting the edge server rooms. “They’re not the cheapest things to put in,” said Coy, “But they have saved us a lot of downtime. If a battery fails and needs to be replaced, for example, you just flick a switch to bypass the UPS, and that allows you to keep IT services operating while you swap out any parts that need to be replaced.”


Immediate results from the university working with RMD and Schneider Electric include improvements to power availability as well as the serviceability of its infrastructure. By increasing temperature setpoints, the university is saving energy as a first step to moving towards becoming net zero carbon for IT services.

The improved monitoring and maintenance has resulted in a more efficient and reliable power-security environment that provides peace of mind to the IT staff and also presents opportunities for improvements in the area of sustainability. The insights made available from Schneider Electric APC UPS systems, APC PDUs and APC NetBotz sensors made available using Data Center Expert software have enabled Coy and the IT team to collaborate more effectively with the University’s Sustainability Team, tasked with improving the overall carbon footprint of the campus and its sustainability.

The IT team has been slowly raising temperatures in its comms room—which naturally means using less power on air conditioning—using insights provided by a Data Center Expert and custom software written by the IT team: “I can use query data to generate helpful graphs that provide an overview of whether the temperature is right in a room and where it can be appropriate to raise the operating temperature for better overall efficiency,” said Coy. “Being able to mine the data allows us only to use the power that we need.”

In addition, monitoring using Data Center Expert software together with NetBotz sensors ensures that servers, as well as the UPS batteries are kept within recommended temperatures. This ensures that warranty requirements are maintained and the batteries are in an environment that maximises their useful lifecycle. Another benefit is that equipment changes can be planned according to their condition rather than their age.

On the recommendation of RMD, physical infrastructure in edge locations is now being deployed in new builds with bypass switches as standard and upgraded in older installations, improving the efficiency of maintenance operations with no break in IT services.

“We enjoy working with RMD – over the years, their site engineers have given us straight advice, which we’ve found to be trustworthy. This is backed up by the quality of Schneider’s products and solutions. They not only help us deliver a first-class student experience, but also help us to achieve our efficiency and reliability goals whilst working towards greater sustainability. Together, we’re giving an edge to the education of all those choosing to enrich their lives by studying at the University of Lincoln,” concluded Darran Coy.

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