SAN Scores Big With SMB User
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The non-denominational Christian school based in Aliso Viejo, Calif. recognized four years ago that focusing on technology for its middle school students was critical for their preparation for high school. Since that time, the institution's storage needs have grown from 50GB to 2TB.
When the school's VAR, Nth Generation Computing, suggested looking at SAN solutions for the small and mid-sized business (SMB) market because product prices had fallen, the school's director of technology took the advice.
"We took a leap of faith, but once I understood that the technology, the price point and the level of risk was low enough, it made sense to make the investment," says Mike Magaldi, director of technology at St. Mary's.
Like many organizations in the SMB market, St. Mary's relied on server-attached storage since its inception in 1984 with 80 students. Today, with 850 students and steep requirements for storage, the school recognized that it simply couldn't handle the expansion costs with its current technology.
"What we didn't want to do is limit storage capacity for teacher and student projects when we should be encouraging use," says Magaldi.
Technology continues to play an increasingly important role for students and teachers at St. Mary's. Four years ago, the school began offering middle school students core Microsoft applications such as PowerPoint and Word because more high schools required that students be familiar with them.
The school had two computer labs with 26 PCs in each lab. An additional 26 PCs, used for research, are located in the school's library. A portable cart offers students 26 laptop devices. Last year, the school added another portable cart and had approximately 130 PCs for students. This year the number of PCs increased to 170, and soon the count will be as high as 250 devices, according to Magaldi.
A Microsoft shop, the school runs Windows Server 2003, XP Pro and Office 2003. There are about 450 accounts on the system. "We maintain this level of activity on a daily basis," says Magaldi, noting that six different sets of hands are on a single machine each day.
Magaldi says the school had 50GB of storage on more than six servers using a distributed storage architecture. The servers ran Exchange 2000 and a SQL database, and the school also ran its own Web site. Additionally, the school ran business applications, including database and bookkeeping, along with student applications.
"When the student population reached 250 kids, we had to put in secure server accounts, and that's when life got interesting," he says.
Two years ago, the school added more disk space, bringing storage capacity to 80GB. At that time, each student was given a digital camera to use for research reports, journals and field trips. Some students were also doing video recordings.
"As the images began to rise, we couldn't handle it," says Magaldi.
At that point, Magaldi added SCSI drives and populated an old server with 300GB for extra storage. Still using a distributed storage architecture, the system became increasingly difficult for the teachers to use, and they demanded more IT support. Also, Magaldi wasn't able to back up the storage.
Up until 2004, the school had a one-man IT shop. Then the school hired another technology person, who also taught computer classes and theatre technology, which consisted of lighting design and video production. That's when Magaldi began looking for a better storage solution.
A Better Way
When the school's VAR suggested a SAN solution, Magaldi began doing his homework. "The SAN looked easy to install, easy to manage and was affordable," he says. Most importantly, it answered the school's expanding storage needs.
Having gone from 50GB to 80GB to 300GB, Magaldi knew that increasingly demanding storage applications meant that St. Mary's needed a storage solution with better performance, immediate capacity and growth potential.
Looking at the numbers, the move to an FC SAN made sense. Magaldi says that the school had spent $3,500 on disk drives just for the upgrade to 300GB of storage. For an initial cost of $10,000 for the SAN last November, St. Mary's got a couple of critical servers and enough storage to get through the school year.
According to Magaldi, the school's IT budget is approximately $100,000 a year, available in quarterly increments. This summer, the school purchased 10 more HP drives for the SAN, increasing storage capacity to 2TB. Each 73GB capacity drive cost approximately $5,000.
The school made the leap to SAN with no pilot. "We went from where we were to where we are," he says.
Despite having no experience with SAN technology, Magaldi says the learning curve was minimal. "There weren't any show-stoppers," he says. After populating the SAN, Magaldi is in the process of putting in HBAs to tie into the FC network.
Today, with 2TB of storage, the school has a 500GB buffer of unused capacity.
St. Mary's continues to offer students technology programs. For video production, there's a 300GB director for video images. A school district grant program encourages video production for middle school students. St. Mary's sixth, seventh and eighth graders are videotaping and doing digital editing and rendering.
The school has an Ethernet TCP/IP network. All machines run 100Base T except the lab which runs GB Ethernet. All video editing and rendering takes place in the lab. St. Mary's also has a wireless 802.11g LAN with eight access points. The school upgraded all machines from Windows 98 to XP Pro.
With the purchase of three HP Blade Servers and five existing 800MHz servers with 1GB RAM, Magaldi reports that the school is set for now. Going forward, the blade box has a capacity for eight blades, which will eventually replace all existing Dell servers, including the Exchange server, business server and Web portal server.
"We populated one shelf on the SAN and can hook up two more," he says. "We expect that in another two years, we'll have another 2TB of storage." In another month, Magaldi will connect the blades to the SAN.
"We're in control now, rather than being shoved around by need," he says.
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