Texas Tech Gives an 'A' to Its SAN

 
 
By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2013-10-11
 
 
 
storage area network

By Samuel Greengard

Managing an IT and storage infrastructure for one of the nation's largest universities is a daunting challenge. At Texas Tech University, which has approximately 38,000 students and 10,000 employees—all spread across more than a dozen campus locations, a health sciences center, a school of law and other facilities in Lubbock—it's mission-critical.

"Technology plays an integral role in the education of our students," says Dustin Jordan, assistant managing director for technology operations and systems management. "The challenge is keeping up with a changing environment and constantly changing IT needs."

In fact, over the past dozen or so years, the university has witnessed a doubling of its storage requirements almost every year. "We require an infrastructure that can support such rapid and ongoing growth," he adds.

Three years ago, the school replaced a hodge-podge of legacy storage systems with a Dell Compellent and EqualLogic storage platform that enables a virtualized shared-services hosting model. The current environment accommodates large and ultrafast SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) drives along with other devices, including older SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) drives. In addition, the university relies on Dell PowerEdge servers to run an Oracle 11g database that drives the school's ERP system.

Matt Thomson, section manager for enterprise systems, says several key factors motivated the university to migrate to a more sophisticated storage infrastructure. These included the need to use auto-tiering, thin provisioning and deduplication.

"We didn't want to spend a lot of money investing in expensive, high-performing resources if we didn't require them all the time," he explains. Today, "An application or service can use faster resources when it needs them, and then, during periods of slower use or downtime, revert to lower tiers of storage that are less expensive and slower."

The storage area network (SAN), which currently contains in the neighborhood of 1.5 petabytes of data, replicates data in real time to a disaster recovery site over a single strand of fiber. It also allows hot swapping of components.

"We were able to build out the storage infrastructure faster and with a much smaller financial investment," Thompson reports.

The Compellent architecture has helped Texas Tech achieve several efficiency and cost gains. For instance, it has realized a 40 percent improvement in storage utilization and 20-fold faster storage provisioning.

Jordan says that as a result of thin provisioning, the school has achieved nearly 85 percent utilization on its storage systems. "We can dynamically expand our storage on the fly," he says, "and we purchase additional storage only as the need arises."

In addition, the IT department now spends 75 percent less time managing storage, and it has achieved a 75 percent reduction in recovery time objective (RTO). Thompson says the storage platform also translates into better computing performance for students, faculty and staff using the universities IT resources.

"We now have a cost-effective platform that is equipped to deliver the level of performance required for today's computing environment," he reports.