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Pittsburgh Technical Institute revamps storage strategy around virtual servers

Pittsburgh Technical Institute overhauls its storage strategy after a virtual server initiative; adds solid state drives (SSDs) and backup app for virtual machines.

After virtualizing 90% of its servers and adding approximately 100 virtual desktops to increase management of its IT infrastructure, Pittsburgh Technical Institute's IT team found it needed to graduate to a more advanced storage strategy by adding a SAN, NAS, solid state drives (SSDs) and a virtual tape library (VTL).

Pittsburgh Technical Institute (PTI) is a private college that provides associate degree and certificate programs to more than 2,000 students through its seven schools of instruction: Building Technologies, Business, Criminal Justice, Design, Healthcare, Nursing and Technology.

PTI began virtualizing its servers with VMware approximately three years ago to reduce power and cooling, and to increase IT control over its environment with standardized desktop images.

"We took a shot using virtualization, installed VMware and now we have a standard desktop image we put out to all of our PCs," said Jon Buhagiar, manager of network operations. "They're all built in VMware and packaged up for deployment in VMware. It ties in with our VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure]."

Pittsburgh Technical Institute reduced approximately 70 physical servers to 10 servers running 300 virtual machines (VMs), and implemented VDI with VMware View 4.5. All that virtualization also mandated changes in the college's storage and backup systems.

The college's storage is now a combination of NAS, Fibre Channel SAN and iSCSI SAN, and includes SSDs. William Showers, supervisor, application programming, said PTI will soon upgrade to 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE). On the backup side, PTI uses disk and tape, as well as separate backup applications for physical and virtual machines.

The storage strategy overhaul began the same time as the server virtualization effort. Showers said PTI first moved from direct-attached storage (DAS) to an EMC CX3 Fibre Channel SAN. The school upgraded to a Celerra NS-120 unified storage system with SSDs approximately six months ago as its primary storage for virtual machines, virtual desktops and student files, as well as Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server and other applications. It places high utilization applications on Fibre Channel and lesser utilized data on NAS. Pittsburgh Technical Institute still uses the CX3 for virtual machine backup and has a Clariion AX4 iSCSI SAN to store video from its security cameras.

Showers said networked storage "lets you carve up disks however you want and make your LUNs and RAID groups however you want. That flexibility is important so we can segregate workloads."

In addition, the school has approximately 500 GB spread across seven SSD drives on the Celerra. Buhagiar said the SSDs were added to negate VDI boot storms.

"We're hitting our Celerra pretty hard," he said. "When you have a lot of users hitting those [SSDs], the read time is astounding when compared to traditional SAS drives. The only limits are space and price."

Buhagiar said some PTI employees use virtual desktops, and he plans to extend the capability to other employees or departments who can use them to access work from home.

Buhagiar said he considers Pittsburgh Technical Institute's setup a private cloud. "My definition of private cloud is I can create a virtual machine anywhere in storage where I have space, and I don't have to worry about what disk it's going on or what else will affect it," he said. "It's just storage. When I allocate a machine to a VM cluster, I don't have to worry that machine will be burdened with processing power because we aggregate everything."

PTI also adjusted its backup strategy for virtual machines, adding Veeam Software's Backup & Replication to its main backup app, Symantec Backup Exec. Showers said PTI uses Veeam for VMDK files and Backup Exec for the rest of the backups. PTI backs up to an EMC Disk Library (EDL) 3D virtual tape library with plans to switch to an EMC Data Domain DD670 with data deduplication, with a Dell PowerVault 136T LTO-3 tape library for archiving data after 90 days.

The college allocates approximately 1 TB of space for student backups. "No matter where you are in the building, you will have a personal drive," Showers said. "If things get deleted, we allow restores."

Showers said using Volume Shadow Copy Service with Windows Server 2003 eliminated approximately 90% of IT restores by letting users do their own restores.

"We promise 24-hour restores, and usually get the file back in an hour for data that's less than 90 days old," he said. "If it's more than 90 days, we have to go to the tape vault and grab a tape."


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