Case Study: Schools cut back-up cost

By Sarah Stokely
From The Australian, November 16, 2004,7208,11372788%5E24171%5E%5Enbv%5E24169,00.html

An education institution facing spiralling back-up costs chose internet protocol iSCSI storage, which also helped overcome security and staffing challenges.

The Catholic Education Office this month completed the centralisation of storage and back-up for its schools and sites across Western Sydney in a move from tape storage to iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface).

The Catholic Education Office serves about 40,000 students and 4500 staff, supported by 13 IT staff.

The central office operates as the single point of internet connection for all 80 sites, which are served by a wide area network. Each remote site had been running between three and four servers.

While planning to replace 160 servers with 80 high-capacity ones, IT infrastructure manager Shane Wharton realised a new storage system would be required.

The increased server capacity meant that the cost of the tape back-up would have skyrocketed, doubling the cost of the project, Wharton says. “Previously we only had to back up two mirrored drives of between 4GB and 9GB,” Wharton says. The new servers were RAID 5 with 72GB.

Researching the server upgrade also threw up a number of challenges related to disaster recovery and contingency planning, Wharton says.

The organisation went to tender to find a low-cost system that would also overcome several environmental challenges, including the fact that many of its schools had non-IT staff performing storage maintenance in the absence of dedicated onsite IT staff.

Wharton says FalconStor’s IPStor system, based on the IP-based iSCSI format, got the nod because of its low cost, compatibility with existing LAN and WAN infrastructure, and the security benefits of centralisation.

The project came in at “far less” than half of the $800,000 that had been the estimated cost of continuing with tape, Wharton says. The investment included installation and training costs, while the organisation signed an additional annual maintenance contract worth 10 per cent of the purchase price.

It rejected a NAS because it would have meant deploying yet another device at each remote location, Wharton says. The NAS would have cost about the same as a tape system, he says.

“We were looking at another $6000 per site, and it might have been more.”

The fact that iSCSI technology is based on the ubiquitous internet protocol was a major drawcard, Wharton says. From a service point of view, iSCSI won out over fibre channel or NAS because the required skills could be kept in-house.

“We now have a centralised storage area network and a tape library on the back of that.” The centralisation of storage appealed, Wharton says. “If there’s a disaster at a school, the back-ups are offsite. We can also train our dedicated staff to do file retrieves rather than having 80 people do them.”

Installation time for the storage system was minimal as it was done alongside the server upgrade.

“We had to go to each school to take out each old server,” Wharton says.

Files from the old servers were transferred to the new ones, while back-ups were made on laptops and brought back to the SAN.

Each site planned to have a day offline while the servers were upgraded, he says.

The upgrade path was also a consideration. “We do have a big need but not as much bandwidth as we’d like,” Wharton says. “Now we can scale up our back end easily because we’ve only got one SAN.”

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