Parramatta Catholic Education Diocese upgrades storage system

The diocese has upgraded from a 40TB storage solution to 110TB, which can be scaled to 3000TB

The Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta has upgraded and expanded its storage and network systems to manage exponential data growth.

Catholic Education chief technology officer (CTO), Matthew Doepel, told Computerworld Australia that the diocese — comprised of 78 primary and secondary schools in western Sydney — had experienced an “unprecedented” increase in data, including courseware, enterprise files, and student records, and needed a solution to handle the growth efficiently.

“The speed of the take-up was unprecedented that we’ve gone from 100 megabit internet links to one gig, two gig internet links,” he said.

“The amount of data we’re transferring has gone from a couple of terabytes a month to 400 over our networks and we did not anticipate this at all, so we’re rapidly responding to these ever-increasing needs.”

The diocese recently signed a deal with NetApp to implement a new scalable SAN solution that will increase its storage capacity from 40 terabytes (TB) to 110 TB, with the ability to expand up to 3000 TB.

It previously employed a Dell and NetApp system, with the latter kept on but being re-used as a backup storage solution. In addition, the diocese consolidated three backup systems that each separately protected corporate, Exchange, or student data with CommVault’s Simpana software as its sole backup solution.

“We had several backup solutions before: Backing up schools separately, backing up our departments at head office, backing up the data centre separately,” Doepel said.

“We spent the majority of 2010 basically re-architecting our backup strategy as well, and now we’re just using the Simpana solution [which] covers all backup, restoration, all of that.”

Prior to the upgrade, the Catholic Education Diocese also used a “stock standard, old school” data centre in Kent Street, with each physical server taking up a lot of space, power, and heat.

“Our storage solutions there were an NEC storage solution, which weren’t really enterprise-grade,” Doepel said.

“They were pretty well-patched together, so you could probably imagine racks and racks full of single servers doing single things.”

But over the course of 2009 and toward the end of 2010, the diocese moved their data centre after construction of all the schools, as well as built a 10 gig backbone to the schools, implemented optic fibre between all schools and their data centre, and migrated away from the physical servers to a Cisco Unified Computing Systems.

Doepel said the impetus for the upgrade was largely due to funding from the Federal Government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER) initiative, which delivered laptops to all Years 9 to 12 students within the diocese.

Although he could not disclose the total amount of funding, Doepel said that the DER provided approximately $1000 per student from Years 9 to 12 with an additional $8 million — all public knowledge he assured.

“The government gave us additional funding towards the infrastructure because they basically had all these laptops delivered but nowhere to connect them,” Doepel said.

“In some cases, schools were just leaving them locked in a cupboard for a couple of months because if you can’t connect them, there’s no point in taking them out of the boxes.

The diocese has 33,000 laptops and around 3000 iPads that are shared across its 4500 teachers and 42,000 students, with each student from Years 9 to 12 having access to a laptop every day.

The diocese also hopes to move away from the computer labs model with laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices, Doepel said, so that “we’re not sending students to a room to work; they can work anywhere in the school”.

The diocese has undertaken further training of its technical staff.

“A lot of the engineers and technicians have been around for a while, so having to re-skill them and training has been a big issue for us," Doepel said.

Teachers have also had to adapt, modifying their teaching style to take advantage of the new technology on offer, Doepel said.

“Some of the teachers have been afraid of technology. Now that they can use it and they’re working with students, they’re learning. So they’re adapting their pedagogy style to use this technology and collaborating amongst other schools and other classrooms… particularly with videoconferencing.”

Follow Diana Nguyen on Twitter: @diananguyen9

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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