University Graduates to New Storage Architecture

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A new back-end architecture that utilizes EMC storage solutions has dramatically changed the face of computing at Salisbury University. In a few short years, the Maryland institution of higher education has been able to reduce operating costs, increase uptime and scale for the future.

“We needed an all-in-one storage solution for various applications such as ERP, digital images, geographical information and media, which we expect to get bigger than it is today,” says Jerry Waldron, CIO at Salisbury University (SU), located in Salisbury, Maryland. “An EMC Clariion SAN and EMC Celerra NAS give us the scalability we believe is key to the future of the university.”

What began in 2002 as a change of direction in the school’s computing environment with the implementation of a PeopleSoft ERP application and three-tiered Web architecture has blossomed with the installation of the EMC SAN and NAS solution, says Waldron.

Not only did the IT decision makers know that something had to be done about the school’s under-performing storage and backup system, but a document imaging system needed attention as well.

The school ended up with new solution, EMC’s Documentum, which Waldron notes is scalable, robust and standards-based. “Ease of management and having a single vendor for storage, backup and imaging means better ROI all around,” he says.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

The ERP system that Salisbury installed in 2002 was the catalyst that sent the school’s IT department on the trail for a new storage solution. That particular application, in addition to having over a million scanned documents, GIS and a growing number of e-mail accounts, resulted in an initial decision to bring in a Dell SAN solution.

With the change to the ERP solution and the web-based architecture, the IT department went from having two minicomputers to 25 Dell servers for its application servers, web servers and database servers.

“We were using Dell servers and the cost for the Dell SAN worked for us. A few years ago, EMC was out of our league,” says Waldron. “We were looking for fast retrieval for the PeopleSoft application.”

But that’s not what SU got.

The Dell SAN, according to SU’s CIO, underperformed on speed and didn’t provide the scalability that the school needed. In fact, says Waldron, the Dell SAN failed under the strain of full access.

When SU updated its computing environment to a web-based architecture and the Peoplesoft ERP application, the school went from having 150 back-end users to 7,000 users. ERP is used for human resources, financials, administrative records, financial aid, accounts receivable and alumni donor management, according to Waldron.

“We now had 24/7 self-service. Students could, and did, apply, register, pay and manage their financial aid, online,” he says. Faculty also began doing their work online, such as advisory information, rosters, and the like. “It was a huge change in culture and we had to react technically,” he adds.

…Try, Try Again

Needing to respond quickly to implement a storage solution that could accommodate SU’s computing requirements, the school’s IT decision makers were pleased when Dell reps brought EMC to the table.

“Dell was the one who brokered our deal with EMC,” says Waldron.

SU understood its storage requirements: it needed the fast access that Fibre Channel could provide for its ERP application, 13,000 e-mail accounts and 8,000 student storage accounts on the network.

“We needed to store all of this information, and at that time it was being stored on an application server. Backup management was a nightmare,” says Waldron.

The school also had in place a Minolta document imaging system that it had been using since the mid-1990s. The system was a standalone jukebox that stored 1.5 million images that were scanned or brought in directly from data.

SU was also concerned about a graphical information system that it had on campus. According to Waldron, the system was made up of a combination of satellite images for mapping and data applied to the maps. The GIS system was housed on two Dell servers in the geography department and was a well used system.

“We knew we needed a storage solution for the various applications and one that would reduce the time and person power needed to manage the data,” he says.

While the school’s IT department consisted of four units, only four people focused on the servers.

Ultimately, SU consolidated its storage with the Clariion 600 SAN and moved from seven Novell Netware file servers to a single Celerra NAS. SU uses Fibre Channel drives to ensure high availability and fast response for mission-critical applications and ATA drives for archiving, backup and student network storage space. The school allocates 500 MB of storage to each student and one gigabyte of storage to each faculty and staff member.

Initially, the EMC solution had 4 terabytes of Fiber Channel and 7 terabytes of ATA. Today, it’s grown to 8 terabytes of Fiber Channel and 16 terabytes of ATA and is growing its ATA drives at a rate of one to two terabytes per year, according to Waldron.

SU also purchased a Documentum system and converted its one million plus images to the new system from the Minolta standalone solution.

Today, the school runs 70 physical Dell servers and 30 virtual servers using VMware. “The virtual servers allow us to create a smaller test and production environment without having to purchase another box, providing both purchase and administrative savings,” says Waldron.

Graduation Plans

Having grown its computing infrastructure dramatically over the last several years, Waldron is equally excited about what lies ahead. According to the CIO, the school recently broke ground what will be a 20,000 square-foot Teacher Education and Technology Center that will house a large audio/video development and integration studio.

Waldron’s goal for the facility, scheduled to open in 2008, is that no servers will be located in the building, with all projects stored on the network. “We challenged both EMC and Alcatel, our network provider, to help us meet this goal,” he says.

With the Clariion and Celerra solution in place, “We’re comfortable that we’ll be able to handle the spectrum of all SU’s storage and backup requirements,” says Waldron.

For more storage features, visit Enterprise Storage Forum Special Reports

Lynn Haber
Lynn Haber
Lynn works as an editor-at-large meeting with new and established channel partners in the IT and telecommunications ecosphere. She works to understand what motivates partners, vendors, and distributors as they navigate growth in a dynamic industry. Lynn has worked as a business and technology writer for magazines, journals, and online media, and has authored hundreds of articles on technology, communications, business management, employment and careers, industry, and products.

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