School district maintains uptime with Xiotech, DataCore

Worried about unscheduled maintenance disrupting his users, Barren County (Ky.) IT director turns to Xiotech Emprise 5000 and DataCore SANmelody for thin provisioning and remote mirroring.

The Barren County (Ky.) school district discovered it could make good use of management features such as thin provisioning and remote mirroring even if they're not included natively with its storage arrays.

As part of a virtualization project, the district installed an Emprise 5000 storage system from Xiotech Corp. and DataCore Software Inc.'s SANmelody software to increase uptime and decrease the impact of maintenance on its users.

Barren County school district includes around 4,600 students and 700 faculty. IT Director Steve Gumm and his team handle a high school, middle school, seven elementary schools, the board office, a day care location and four other buildings – all connected by fiber optic cabling.

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Gumm said the district set out to virtualize its network and storage, beginning with its servers, to guarantee availability during unscheduled maintenance work or system crashes.

"We wanted to increase the uptime for the servers we had," he said. "We schedule maintenance for every Friday, but sometimes we need upgrades or patches in a more immediate manner. We wanted to be able to work on equipment any time we needed to."

Gumm revamped his storage setup over the summer after the district virtualized all 30 of its servers with VMware. Gumm thought it would be a good time to modernize his storage network, which consisted of a four-year-old EMC iSCSI SAN. The district first went to its server vendor Dell and took a look at an EqualLogic iSCSI SAN. But Gumm wasn't comfortable with the idea of failing over between EqualLogic controllers in different sites during frequent network upgrades.

Barren's reseller recommended a Xiotech Emprise 5000 built on ISE self-healing drives, with DataCore SANmelody management software. Gumm said he was pleasantly surprised by both. He liked Xiotech's technology as well as its five-year warranty.

"The Emprise is cool technology," he said. "The self-healing technology was a big selling point for us, but their support is also top-notch. Right after we installed and registered the boxes, we started doing some cable management. We had pulled the power supply to clean up the cables, and we got a call within five minutes from Xiotech saying 'You have a power disruption on one of your SANs.'"

Barren installed two 16 TB Fibre Channel systems in separate buildings and Gumm uses SANmelody to manage them with the uptime he wants.

"With SANmelody, we can thin provision those SANs," he said. "We're not utilizing all the space, and thin provisioning lets us use just what is needed at the time. We also use it for data mirroring between both locations. If we need to do maintenance or I need to re-boot my SAN for whatever reason, we drop the SAN here, failover, do our maintenance, failback, and we're up and going."

Gumm still uses his old EMC storage for backups with Veeam Inc.'s Backup and Replication application.

"We can manage whatever maintenance needs to be done, whenever we need it," Gumm says of his new setup. "The biggest benefit coming down the road is we're not going to have to do forklift upgrades. When it comes time to add storage, we won't have to rip out the unit. We can add to the unit and allow DataCore to manage where we move data to."

Gumm said he recently moved all the home folders in the district to a different drive, a process that he said would've taken two days using Windows RoboCopy. "Now we map LUNs to the EMC SAN, map LUNS to Xiotech, and migrated data from one to the other. It took about a day, and our users never missed a beat."

Gumm said he would like to see DataCore add automated LUN mapping. Now he has to manually map LUNs to his servers although "in general, the process is pretty smooth."

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