St Richard’s has a 50-year tradition of high quality education as a foundation to build upon, with a goal to transition from print-based teaching to an environment of digital learning excellence.
There are a few very important strategic objectives for IT at St Richard’s going forward.
Address the current performance bottleneck issues that were impacting classroom teaching and student access.
Implement a data protection strategy that provides greater protection of information assets and creates a DR plan against data center disruptions.
Lower the costs to deliver IT and increase the productivity of IT to address new application initiatives.
St Richard’s was in need of replacing an aging legacy data center environment with new technology to achieve higher performance, higher availability, and deliver an expanding list of services. The new solution needed to address a much higher Service Level Agreement (SLA) with lower downtime and higher system performance than the legacy environment, which lacked reliability and did not meet the faculty or student objectives for a reasonable log-on speed.
The previous storage hardware was over-engineered for the needs of St Richard’s so it was a very complex task to configure and very costly on IT resources to support.
With the contract lease on the old hardware expiring, the plan was to replace the current equipment with a solution that would meet the following criteria:
- Cost effective – both CapEx and OpEx
- Scalable – could grow to meet future needs
- Simple to deploy and manage
- Provide green efficiencies with a reduction in power, cooling, and physical space requirements
- Support zero downtime for the IT infrastructure
St Richard’s infrastructure needed to integrate seamlessly with a network redesign including a new 10Gig fiber backbone and a wireless network across the campus.
The St Richard’s IT Team evaluated SAN solutions from HP and Dell along with hyperconverged solutions from Nutanix and Scale Computing.
“We decided to go with Scale Computing as it was not only more cost effective in reducing our Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) versus all of the alternatives we evaluated, but it also had incredible simplicity as an overall solution that would easily transition us from our EMC environment,” said Mark Lane, Systems Manager.
CapEx and OpEx Savings: “The cost savings with Scale Computing were extremely compelling and the total cost of the system was 40% lower than continuing our EMC renewal contract”, said Lane. “The foundation we now have with HC3 will enable even greater CapEx and OpEx savings over the next 5 years.”
“The installation of the HC3 system took 1 hour to unpack, attach rack rails, and connect power to the system. In the next hour, we had the system clustered and connected to our fiber network”, said Lane. “The entire setup of user permissions, access control, security, and virtualizing the storage environment was complete in 3 days. We could not have asked for anything more from the Scale Computing support team as the installation went flawlessly and totally transparent to the users.”
Performance: One of the most business critical applications is logging on to the system and authentication for faculty and students in the classroom. “On our previous EMC storage, log on times for our Microsoft CIFS system would take 2 minutes and now with HC3 we are now experiencing sub 25 second log-on time for a 300% productivity gain.”
Platform for New Applications: The vision of St Richard’s is to bring the student learning experience into the 21st century. The HC3 system has freed up the IT Team to implement CCTV in the classroom and IP telephony to support new applications and enhance user experience in the classroom and across the campus through mobile access.
“Now that we have a reliable solution, we spend less time on backend operations and we have the time to concentrate on the creative side of supporting learning, portal, and application development while exploring other innovative technologies for the school.” said Lane.
Business Continuity: St Richard’s HC3 configuration now supports a DR solution with systems at each end of the campus connected by a 10 Gig fiber backbone. The previous storage system had significant downtime challenges as the data center averaged losing a hard drive every week and had to deal with scheduled outages requiring onsite vendor support.
With the cost effectiveness of the HC3 system, St Richard’s is now implementing an additional HC3 system for disaster recovery and greater protection of the College’s information assets. The HC3 systems are identical at both sites to meet desired performance SLAs and to deliver transparent access to all College systems.
The IT organization performs 40TB of daily full backups plus incremental backups of user data 4 times a day with absolutely no impact to application performance. The previous EMC system experienced issues with backups as there were data loss issues, a lack of backups for home shares of student/staff drives, and IT complexity to establish permissions and policies to top level shares.
“We can now perform incremental backups of our data throughout the day without compromising any aspect of student or faculty application performance during operational hours.” said Mark Lane, Systems Manager.
High Availability: With downtime in the datacenter using the previous solution, the college would still continue operating as the school is prepared to handle student registration and administrative functions using pen and paper during a disaster.
The impact of a down datacenter in the prior environment could mean that the learning environment would be crippled. Smart rooms and digital projectors in the classrooms would not be accessible to any online content and printing would stop. Storage systems not being up would have a significant disruption on the educational experience in the classroom and would impact the quality of the educational experience.
Now with HC3, High Availability is built into the architecture such that every Virtual Machine (VM) is automatically made highly available. In the event of a failed drive, HC3 automatically re-stripes and re-mirrors data to the available space in the cluster. In the event of a failed node, the VMs running on that node automatically fail over to the other nodes in the cluster. For full site level availability, St Richard’s even implemented a secondary cluster to make use of HyperCore’s replication functionality.
“We have had our initial HC3 system installed for 18 months and our DR system running for 6 months and we have not experienced any downtime”, said Lane. “We have upgraded our system to a dual configuration which not only gives us greater scale, but also enhances our system resiliency.”
Green Efficiencies: St Richard’s IT datacenter transition to HC3 shrunk the server and storage space from three 42U racks to only one 42U rack, plus the cooling required went from two AC units to one.
“Our HC3 System reduced our physical footprint 300% and cut our power and cooling in half for an incredible cost savings while making a big difference with carbon footprint”, said Lane. “More than anything else, our IT environment is no longer a stressful environment as we no longer have to deal with the hot issue of the moment.”
100% Virtualized IT Environment: Migration to the HC3 environment enabled an easy transition from 13 physical servers (Sun, Dell, and HP) to a fully virtualized infrastructure of two 4-Node HC3 systems addressing the majority of the College’s application environment.
“With the previous EMC storage system we tried to implement 200 Citrix thin clients, but could not get it to work”, said Lane. “We had no servers virtualized before HC3, but now everything is virtualized which not only enables us to optimize our client/server resources, but the lower administrative support to manage our entire data center complex is saving us precious time and increasing productivity.”
Future plans for IT include enhancing the DR strategy with cloud storage. St Richard’s has a well-orchestrated strategy to keep sensitive data protected using a hybrid model to make sure that the student and staff information is kept in compliance and security is not compromised.
“We think that all schools and colleges should go to a hyperconverged model like our environment as it is cost effective, sustainable, and instills confidence to users”, said Lane. “If I was an IT solution provider or reseller, I would take a good look at HC3 as a plug and play solution for any customer because it just works.”
There are many intangibles that St Richard’s has been able to achieve since implementing the Scale Computing solution, as there is high moral and a strong level of confidence anything now possible.