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University gets an education in SANs

SVM allows the Technion to tap into excess storage capacity and reallocate it to other applications in need.

The Technion, known formally as the Israel Institute of Technology, is Israel's oldest university and has more than 12,000 students and 860 faculty members. The school boasts that more than 70% of Israel's hi-tech industry managers hold Technion degrees and its talented graduates have given Israel the greatest concentration of high-tech start-up companies anywhere outside of Silicon Valley.

Such stature doesn't mean that the Technion hasn't faced its own technology architecture challenges, though. Two years ago its Computer Center Director Rina Shachar, recognized that the school needed a better storage plan to handle its growing storage needs.

"We have many heterogeneous OS environments and many different kinds of storage devices," Shachar explained. "Two years ago we were using network attached storage solutions, but we didn't like that approach at all," Shachar recalled. Adding more capacity was both expensive and confining. Adding more disks to a particular system might help individual pieces of the school's overall network for a while, but it seemed to be a matter of expensively plugging holes and becoming more dependent on particular vendors rather than developing an overall storage blueprint for future expansion.

Taking a leap into the unknown world of SAN storage was a little nerve-wracking for the Technion. "In general we thought the concept of a SAN was interesting and a potential fit for our needs," Shachar said. Even so, they were extremely careful and took small and careful testing steps initially. Shachar and her team began testing a beta version of StoreAge Networking Technologies Ltd.'s Storage Virtualization Manager (SVM), a platform that supports a host of storage applications and provides a central point of storage management.

"The whole concept was scary for the Technion because, even though they were having occasional problems, what they had in place before was working for them," says Dani Naor, director of business development at Haifa, Israel-based StoreAge, the lead vendor for the Technion's SAN project.

The StoreAge SVM allowed Shachar and her team to set up a virtual storage pool of all the storage devices on the network. The system is able to tap into excess storage capacity from any system on the SAN and reallocate it to the applications that need it, while unifying control under a single interface. The SVM acts, in essence, as a traffic cop that sees all of the disks and helps create pieces of needed storage to send on to the servers.

With some tinkering (by StoreAge) to add Novell clustering capabilities and ensure compatibility with the Technion's Linux, Windows NT, Novell and Solaris-based systems, Shachar's group slowly brought more campus departments and groups on board. Now the StoreAge SVM is the central piece of the Technion's overall SAN project, which also includes fibre channel switches from Gadzoox Networks and multi-protocol switches from SANcastle Technologies Inc.

"Ours is not the largest installation StoreAge has done, but we probably have the most heterogeneous environment," Shachar said. Now that the Technion's SAN has been in place for 18 months, the next steps are to use it for a complete system backup and create a disaster recovery system where each disk device is replicated at multiple sites.

For more information about the Technion, visit its Web site.

For additional information about StoreAge, visit its Web site.

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