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Bottum, who was hired away from Purdue University specifically to lead this effort, and CTO Jim Pepin, another recent hire with this goal in mind, are leading an approach that doesn't hesitate to break from conventional IT wisdom. Their storage infrastructure upgrade plan avoids big, costly enterprise storage arrays bundled with sophisticated firmware in favor of low-cost arrays (LCAs) that Clemson will use as building blocks to assemble any kind of storage new faculty members need.

And storage will be the lead component in Clemson's Cyberinfrastructure push. "When I came here, the two biggest weaknesses were lack of storage and the lack of a data warehouse, a single authoritative data source," says Bottum. First up: addressing the storage issue.

Storage condominium
To deliver the storage, Clemson will develop what Pepin, who was lured from the University of Southern California (USC), calls a "storage condominium cluster." The storage condo is assembled out of blocks of LCAs. When a faculty member requests storage for his or her group, it will be assigned a set of LCAs as its storage condo. The group will then be responsible for provisioning, configuring and managing that particular storage however it pleases. The Clemson storage team will maintain the infrastructure and be responsible for overall infrastructure performance and reliability, but not the individual storage

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Mike Cannon, data storage architect and manager, was brought in by Bottum--for whom Cannon had worked at Purdue University--to lead the storage effort and build out Pepin's storage vision. The LCA, Cannon's core building block, currently consists of a tray of 12 300GB SATA disks with two controllers. Clemson is buying the LCAs initially from Sun Microsystems Inc. (list price is $23,000, although Clemson negotiated a steep discount). Although the initial set of arrays is from Sun, it's just commodity storage. "We could get the LCAs from any vendor, and we are talking to others," says Cannon.

The LCA-based storage condo, however, is a far cry from what Cannon thought he was being hired for. "When we hired Mike [before Pepin arrived] we were thinking virtualization," says Boyd Wilson, executive director, computing systems and operations, and Cannon's immediate supervisor. Previously, Clemson's IT infrastructure resembled a hodgepodge of disparate systems that operated as highly independent silos.

Pepin arrived soon after Cannon and convinced everyone that virtualization was too complicated and costly, not only in terms of money but in performance and bottlenecks. "We were doing this massive upgrade to eliminate bottlenecks. When Jim [Pepin] came, he said we don't need virtualization, we need to get simple," says Wilson. "That's when he started talking about this idea of LCAs. I was petrified. I thought it was too small."

This was first published in January 2008

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