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It was new to Cannon, too, but he was willing to try. It turns out that "when we need storage or more IOPS, we can sum the LCAs to meet the need," he says. That was the beauty of Pepin's storage condo. If a group needed 50TB for a massive research project, they could assemble it. If another group needed 2TB for some IO-intensive database app, they could give them that, too. Each need would be configured, provisioned and managed by the users to their own specs.

The trick turned out to be using low-cost switches in conjunction with LCAs. The switches perform the same job in the network layer that a virtualization engine would otherwise do. "We're not afraid to carve up the storage and rely on the switches to connect it together right," says Cannon. Clemson currently uses four QLogic Corp. SANbox 9200 switches with eight 16-port 4Gb/sec blades, dual CPU, but no dual licensing for fault tolerance. The street price for the switch is approximately $700 per port. Through negotiation and by figuring in additional discounts in the form of grants, Clemson paid somewhat less.

Before he can carve the storage into condos, however, Cannon has to do considerable analysis. "We have to look at the application and see how it reads and writes data before we allocate the storage," he explains. In the end, the team is getting to the same point as it would with virtualization but getting there faster and

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at a lower cost. But there's one tradeoff: "With virtualization maybe we would get better utilization," says Cannon.

The storage condo is just one piece of the Cyberinfrastructure that Clemson is rushing to build. The overall Cyberinfrastructure will encompass data and voice communications, systems and operations. For users, it will include enterprise applications, learning and collaborative technology like Google Apps, and research and scholarship capabilities. It will support high-performance computing and provide additional access to pools of idle processing power through a project called Condor, which scavenges idle cycles for various learning and research projects.

"Condor is a scheduling and computational system that allows researchers to use extra cycles on desktop lab computers to work on scientific and other computational problems," says Clemson's Wilson. The results will eventually be stored in the researcher's storage condo. Clemson currently has more than 1,000 workstations in the Condor pool.

Supporting all of this will be a dual-redundant IT infrastructure (still under construction) consisting of two data centers, each built for full redundancy. Each data center, 15 km apart, contains a dual Fibre Channel (FC) SAN. Using a volume mirror, data is replicated between sites. Data will also be backed up to tape using a 3,000-tape Sun high-end tape library.

This was first published in January 2008

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