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Clemson University bets on lots and lots of low-cost storage to enhance its profile and attract top faculty.

Every college and university yearns to break into the top tier of the U.S. News & World Report's annual ranking of higher learning. Clemson University, a South Carolina state university that's probably best known for its nationally ranked football team, is no exception.

This year, U.S. News & World Report ranked Clemson in a four-way tie at 67th in the Top National Universities category for 2008, and tied it with another university at the 27th spot in the less-competitive Top 50 Public National Universities-Doctoral category.

"Clemson is dead serious about becoming a Top 20 school," says James Bottum, Clemson's CIO and vice provost for computing and IT. The usual way a college does this is to woo celebrity professors with big money or to build new student life centers with sleek facilities that dazzle students. Clemson has decided to substantially upgrade its data center by building out a totally new IT infrastructure along the lines of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Cyberinfrastructure initiative. By doing this, it expects to attract a new crop of young faculty by promising to deliver the storage, bandwidth and CPU resources needed to support their world-class research efforts.

"Cyberinfrastructure is the primary backbone

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that ties together innovation in research, instruction and service to elevate Clemson to the Top 20," says Clemson's provost and VP of academic affairs Doris Helms. She plans to connect Clemson's Cyberinfrastructure to the NSF's national research grid and lure 400 new faculty members to campus by 2010, when Bottum expects to have put in place 5 petabytes (PB) of flexible storage and, ultimately, 100 or more teraflops (TFLOPS, 1 trillion floating point operations per second) of processing. The school has 500TB of storage today and will have more than 1PB next year. "I'm confident we can get this done before all the new faculty are up and running," says Bottum.

To get this done, the school projects it will spend $3.5 million for storage replacement alone over the next five years. It also plans to request approximately $10 million over the next five years to add to its base $25 million IT budget. Finally, it's upgrading the general campus network at a one-time expense of $8 million (see "Clemson's storage components," below).

Clemson's storage components
  • LCA units: Multiple trays of 12 300GB SATA disks with dual controllers

  • Switch: QLogic SANbox 9200 switch, 16-port 4Gb/sec blades, dual CPU

  • Redundant Fibre Channel network

  • Tape backup: 3,000-tape Sun Microsystems StorageTek tape library

  • Mirrored data centers: 15km apart

This was first published in January 2008

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