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Deakin University sees storage as a differentiator

Simon Sharwood, searchStorageAU

Deakin University has decided that storage is a key differentiating technology for its IT operations, and has invested in storage training for the majority of its IT team – and IBM’s XIV storage systems

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– to achieve its hoped-for edge.

“I think overall the world of IT is commoditsing in certain areas,” says Craig Warren, the University’s Operational Service Provision Manager. “A desktop PC is a desktop PC and you can buy them from 20 different manufacturers without being able to tell the difference.”

“What we decided was that storage was an area of opportunity to differentiate ourselves. It was forever growing and forever growing and forever growing,” which made good management a way to gain an edge.

One way the University decided to get the edge was by training many of the IT team on its storage systems.

“What we have found in the storage area is that we were becoming a little dependent on knowledge held by specialists,” Warren says. One reason for his dislike of this arrangement was the fact that private enterprise can generally out-bid the public sector for the services of storage experts. Another was the bottlenecks created by specialists.

“We don’t need to wait four weeks for someone to come back from leave to provision some new storage,” he says.

“We have found that with a little bit of training we have been able to get at least 15 of 25 staff comfortably able to provision extra storage on the XIV. That reduces a big risk.”

It also introduces plenty of flexibility, which the University needs to cope with its users’ demands.

“At a meeting I went about two weeks ago a researcher had generated 6TB and they wanted the storage straight away.” Warren’s team can now handle such requests, and he’s pleased that the IBM XIV arrays he has purchased can do so too.

“Because the modules in the XIV are effectively bricks we can just drop them in,” he says. “A couple of weeks ago an IBM technician came out to add an 8TB tray to our XIV. He opened two screws, put in the drawer and tightened up the screws again. We hit the Go button in the GUI and eight hours later we had an extra 8TB.”

Storage agility

Warren is also pleased that his new storage systems are enabling his other agility initiatives, especially server virtualisation.

“We have developed processes so we can provision a virtual machine in a 30 minutes push-the-button-once exercise,” he says. “That means when people ask us for a new application we can get it up very quickly.”

Before the upgrade from IBM DS8100 systems to the new XIV arrays, storage was a bottleneck in that process. “Now it is enabled by the storage,” Warren says.

For what it is worth, he’s not entirely sure how, but that’s part of the reason he likes his new systems.

SearchStorage Australia New Zealand put it to Warren that XIV’s architecture – the arrays eschew conventional RAID techniques and instead spread data over many drives – was a little exotic. Warren agrees, but feels that as the architecture works he’s not fussed!

“The load balancing thing that goes on in the background just works. We have had huge growth in the number of virtual machines and had not done any work on the storage to make it happen.”

One fly in the ointment has been a number of disk failures. None has resulted in data loss, but Warren wonders out loud that perhaps greater use of SAS drives – his arrays use SATA – could result in fewer visits from IBM personnel for maintenance.