Sydney school gets serious about storage

In a sign that storage area networks (SANs) are extending their reach in to mid-tier enterprises, a Sydney high school has deployed 10TB of capacity for its data management and disaster recovery requirements.

This is serious storage for a high school and is evidence of the more complex deployments taking place in the education sector.

With some 1500 students and 250 staff, Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview is one of Sydney’s larger schools and is not holding back when it comes to investing in IT.

The school’s head of IT, Christopher O’Mahony said education and business needs drive the selection of specific solutions. In the case of its storage infrastructure there wasn’t enough “give” in the old system, he said, because everything was either full or approaching full. “Rather than patch, patch, patch, we knew the time had come to look at a major rebuild,” O’Mahony said.

The school contracted Acer to design a SAN solution using storage hardware from Hitachi Data Systems Inc. and backup software from CommVault Inc.

“We were conscious that our server farm was growing, and that we had all of these islands of RAID storage; what we really wanted was to get that all into one big pool,” O’Mahony said. “So instead of having little ponds, we wanted a lake of storage.”

Another problem was reliability, because if one server went down there was no fail-over or load balancing.

“With RAID you can’t shuffle the data around easily, you can’t manage it,” O’Mahony said.

“We wanted, and our user community expected, a higher uptime from the network. We were probably around three nines for uptime and if the dream is five nines then we wanted to be closer to that.”

Acer installed a 10TB SAN which is connected to eight Acer Altos R510 servers running Novell’s cluster services in two, 4-node clusters.

The clusters support file and print serving, e-mail with GroupWise and Netmail, ZENworks for application delivery and imaging, and the pCounter auditing software.

According to Acer, the SAN may the largest in a NSW secondary school and is designed to service Riverview’s needs until 2010, but is expandable to 16TB.

The average size of Acer SANs installed in schools across Australia is about 5TB. “As user expectations grow, our premise is always to take service values up a level,” O’Mahony said.

“The new system has allowed us an enormous amount of options both creatively and technically. The technology gives us the ability to satisfy the requirements of all our users.”

O’Mahony believes the school now has “four nines” reliability and can satisfy the time-sensitive environment of the school.

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