Tasked with managing and maintaining the computing and storage resources for no less than 2,000 faculty and staff members as well as an additional 2,000 students, it would be an understatement to say that the IT team of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry has their hands full.
“We’re an end-to-end solutions team,” Eddie Mudaliar, IT manager for the faculty, told CDN. “We handle multiple roles. We’re an R&D shop that builds apps for the faculty, a service desk and we manage and maintain the storage area network.”
With their growing and ever evolving workload, Mudaliar and his team sought to consolidate their existing SAN infrastructure where bottlenecks have been occurring. The team considered several systems but ultimately decided on installing a couple of all-in-one networking, storage and server appliances from IT infrastructure company Simplivity.
The faculty has a nearly 99 per cent virtual IT environment that leverages virtual servers from VMware and virtual desktop technology from Citrix. Lately, Mudaliar said, his team was losing significant time and manpower because the storage part of their operations was demanding a lot of dedicated attention and lacked flexibility.
“We saw the rest of IT was being consolidated, but storage was being left behind,” he said. “Two analysts were dedicated to the task of managing the SAN because a lot of the things such as adding new VMs could only be done by these analysts.”
This was causing a bottleneck, because Mudaliar had one less personnel to deploy for other tasks and it was slowing down innovation.
“We needed to get rid of the complexity and get to a point where 80 per cent of that SAN-related task could be handled by non-analyst personnel so that we could have more flexibility,” he said.
As an organization’s computing and storage demands grow, IT teams continually need to scramble in order to keep up, according to Tom Grave, vice-president of marketing for Simplivity.
Large companies with big budgets are able to deploy point hardware and software product that address single requirements. However, very often these products are not designed to operate well together. And this prevents many companies from taking full advantage of a virtualized and cloud-integrated environment, said Grave.
“The problem is worse for IT teams of smaller organizations,” he said. “Because of budget constraints, they are forced to work with systems that lack important functionalities such as remote disaster protection or cloud connectivity.”
For years, IT vendors have been touting the benefits of separate server and storage environments. However, recently there has been a movement towards pulling together, server, storage and networking services into a single modular package.
Converged infrastructure products such as VCE’s VBlock and NetApp’s FlexPod have pre-integrated data centre components. This eliminates the need for organizations to worry about patching and upgrading different components.
The current hyper-convergence trend brings about tighter integration, adding modular capability by introducing appliances with software that automatically discovers and adds new nodes to a cluster. This makes it easier to add compute and storage resources by simply installing a new module.
Simplivity is among the players in this field. The company offers its OmniCube data centre-in-a-box products. Mudaliar said his team initially had two OmniCube CN-3000 units installed. The CN-300 is a rack-mounted, general purpose modular system designed to run all data centre applications. It offers 12 to 24 CPU cores and 20 to 40 Terabytes of usable storage capacity.
Among its key benefits are:
- Enterprise functionality and high availability
- Simplified scale out
- In-line de-duplication and compression
- Bandwidth efficient replication
- Data protection and VM-level backup and replication
- VM-centric management
- Public cloud integration which allows data to be backed up and restored from the Amazon Cloud
- Cache accelerated performance
A key consideration for going with OmniCube was the simplicity of operation, he said. It could be operated by other members of his staff. This meant that more senior members could be freed up for other strategic tasks, Mudaliar said.
The units also have built-in global federarted backup and disaster recovery features which he did not find in other systems
“What we liked about it is its simplicity,” said Mudaliar. “It’s all in one box. With traditional SAN you have to go vertical to scale; with OmniCube we just need to add another box if we want more capacity.”