Suffering from poor performance and rapidly approaching capacity, the Australian Catholic University (ACU) made the decision to find a replacement for its NetApp storage infrastructure.
The university has approximately 20,000 students spread across its six campuses in Brisbane, North Sydney, Strathfield, Canberra, Ballarat and Melbourne, and employs around 1500 staff. From 2006, ACU’s storage usage increased from seven terabytes (TB) to some 25TB.
ACU director of IT, Paul Campbell, told Computerworld Australia in 2009 the NetApp storage infrastructure was taking 72 hours to complete data backups and archiving to tape, meaning the system’s ability to effectively respond during peak load times was diminished and maintenance costs were high.
“We were experiencing some timeout of email, mostly for staff, and the growth of virtualization was also putting a lot of pressure on our storage so it was an issue of the storage’s ability provide data quickly rather than it being at capacity,” he said.
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Four years ago the university commenced a long-term goal to virtualize its entire server and storage infrastructure, in order to have better flexibility in maintaining the systems, and has currently virtualized approximately 80 per cent, with a target of 90 per cent by the end of this year.
“To avoid a hefty additional cost we’re basically virtualizing systems as the infrastructure comes to end of life,” he said.
Early last year the university made the decision to find something new and spent three months in preparation before going to market to find a product to match its requirements.
“I manage a virtual team,” ACU head of IT and infrastructure, Wil Daniels said.
“So with members of my team in New South Wales, Queensland and elsewhere we need to deal with the risks associated with dislocation of resources, file servers in different campuses and remote administration of these devices.”
The system also had to provide file sharing across network attached storage (NAS) and have the ability to add storage as required over a three-year period.
“After going to market we shortlisted Hitachi, NetApp and EMC and I think it came down to partnership and culture of those organisations,” Campbell said.
“They provided a very technically advanced solution but it was really down to their ability to partner with us and support us.
"You need a good partner with a solid track record as you can’t always fix problems yourself.
The university deployed EMC’s storage offering in August 2010, which Campbell said took “about a month and was fairly smooth”.
Campbell detailed the rollout which was staged with a roll back plan for each part to ensure they could go back to the old storage environment if needed.
“There were five or six separate stages involved in the implementation and we had to roll back once and then roll forward again because it didn’t work the way we were expecting it to,” he said.
“It created half a day of fairly minor business interruption which didn’t end up affecting everybody due to the segmentation of each stage.”
Following the project, which cost close to a million dollars, ACU’s physical server count went from 120 to just 40, while input/output operations per second (IOPS) jumped from 8000 to 30,000.
Looking back, Campbell said creating a competitive environment for the selection process was vital to getting the best possible offering from the shortlisted vendors as they all competed in both price and what they could offer.
“We were fairly transparent about being down to three players and making them aware of the competition and challenging then on some of their weaknesses whether their weakness was features or too costly, that sort of thing, I think if you’re undertaking a project like this you need to be.”
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