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College learns ABCs of virtualization

Daytona Beach Community College's systems were maxing out -- until it turned to storage virtualization.

This is the last of three profiles of the winners of searchStorage's Storage Innovator Awards, which were presented at Storage Decisions 2001 in Chicago last month. The Storage Innovator Awards program is sponsored by Hewlett-Packard Co.

Daytona Beach Community College has seven different sites, hundreds of faculty members and more than 38,000 students with data needs. It's too bad the school's syllabus didn't have a course in storage virtualization.

Mike Burke, the Director of IS at Daytona Beach Community College and his staff had a collection of servers and disks that they shuffled and re-shuffled in an attempt to fit DBCC's ever-growing data storage needs. HP equipment was hitting limits. Novell machines couldn't take larger drives, and other hardware was continually on the verge of being maxed out. It was a frantic game of hot potato, where Burke's team tried to take care of today's needs while borrowing from tomorrow's.

DBCC faced what many businesses face today: fast-expanding storage needs driven by explosive data growth. For DBCC the data was coming from all corners of the school including student records, accounting, registration and e-mail. Burke's team was frequently adding disks, 30G to 50G bytes of new storage as often as every 10 weeks, to accommodate growth. Even so, its disk storage would fill up quickly, and regular system maintenance had to occur at night. Burke knew he needed something stronger than band-aids.

Burke came up with a list of requirements for a new system. It had to be a traditional SAN model with no network-attached storage because of possible security risks. It had to leverage legacy hardware and support all of the college's platforms, and he needed for it to be fault tolerant with high availability and redundancy. It needed to give DBCC the ability to make a snapshot copy of the system at any time, and it had to be something he and his team could manage themselves.

After listening to many proposals from the biggest industry names, Burke selected a plan from Louisville, Colo.-based Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) and Ft. Lauderdale-based DataCore Software Corp. The plan incorporated StorageTek disks and controllers with SANsymphony software form DataCore that, in essence, virtualized DBCC's storage resources. So, they could all be pooled as one storage resource and free up proprietary storage. With the assistance of Concord, Mass.-based integrator LLC, Burke was able to get the system in place in less than five months for approximately $600,000.

Getting it all in place was nerve-racking. "We were asking for storage virtualization before there was such a thing. So, we simply didn't know if it would work," Burke recalls. Then any small stumbles inevitably led to finger-pointing among vendors, but those were ironed out quickly.

"What we have now are storage domain servers that act as traffic cops seeing all of the disks, helping us create pieces of storage that we need and sending them on to the servers," says Burke. The system is able to tap in to excess storage capacity from any system on the SAN, reallocate it to the applications that need it and unify control under a single interface. "Now I can virtually create a new 18gig drive and say 'Serve that to Server X.' Then Server X says `Hey, I have a new disk device,'" Burke continues. The result is that "we can now buy [storage] disks for the entire community rather than buying them for a particular server."

The system has also helped Burke deploy his IT staff more strategically instead of focusing all their efforts on storage. "DBCC has found that they don't now need specialists who know the nuances of different suppliers and can better deploy IT staff," says Augie Gonzalez, director of product marketing at DataCore Software.

Having the new system in place also led to unexpected benefits. Users noticed improved data retrieval speed with the SAN because of new caching capabilities that improved throughput performance and smoothed over any storage bumps on underlying disks.

With the new system in place, DBCC is now beginning to store online class materials, provide new distance and on-demand classes, and explore the possibility of providing e-mail accounts for students. "When we started this project, we had three new facilities on the horizon, and we can easily foresee 50% growth in our student population over the next couple of years," Burke says. "Now we have the network that can solve the problems of the business of education."

For additional information about DataCore Software, visit its Web site.

To learn more about StorageTek, visit its Web site.

For More Information:

>>Read more about the Storage Innovator Awards.

>>Best Web Links: Storage Management Virtualization

>>Read a featured topic on virtualization.

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