St Andrews upgrades to Dell Compellent SANs with SSD tier

St Andrews university gets dual FCOE-linked Compellent SANs with an SSD tier as it consolidates storage from DAS/NAS at 50 locations to two sites for disaster recovery provision

The University of St Andrews has consolidated storage from 50 sites onto a pair of Dell Compellent SANs linked by Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

The new storage infrastructure comprises dual Compellent SANs with an SSD tier alongside HDDs in a move to embrace disaster recovery best practice that took four months to implement and cost a sum in seven figures.

The university has around 11,000 users and runs a range of applications, including student records, financial and HR based on Oracle databases as well as a virtual server estate that will comprise up to 300 virtual machines.

The university’s storage had comprised multiple instances of direct-attached storage (DAS) and a central Sun Microsystems NAS appliance. Both forms of storage incurred heavy management overheads and compromised data protection best practice, said CIO Steve Watt.

Steve Watt said: “The Sun NAS appliance was legacy and maintenance costs were getting prohibitive. Also, it couldn’t replicate to our secondary site and it didn’t support thin provisioning. The DAS was painful to manage and not optimally protected.”

Following a tender process that included SAN products from IBM and NetApp, Watt’s team opted for dual Dell Compellent SAN via West Yorkshire-based integrator Esteem Systems.

The two devices are located at sites at each end of St Andrews’ campus. Each has 500TB of usable capacity comprised of three tiers: flash, 450GB SAS and 3TB nearline SAS. 

Compellent was a pioneer of automated storage tiering, but it is now a feature common to midrange and enterprise storage arrays.

The automated storage tiering functionality moves data between storage media tiers of differing performance and cost according to policies based on frequency of use. St Andrews' use of storage tiering is in early days but Steve Watt said that the mostly likely candidates to reside on fast flash storage are the Oracle databases.

Snapshots protect data on the primary SAN, which is linked to the second site via FCoE. St Andrews chose FCoE because it already had fibre in place for the 2km distance between its sites and an Ethernet network based on Cisco Nexus switches.

Watt said: “We had the Cisco infrastructure in place and so it made sense to not install a completely new network for the SANs. It was a challenge getting the Cisco configuration to work with Compellent and we had to look at reference sites that had done it before, but we got there in the end.”

FCoE provides an Ethernet wrapper for Fibre Channel storage frames. As a technology it passed through its hype phase a couple of years ago but has been relatively slow to be taken up by customers. Adoption of FCoE, however, should gain traction as organisations refresh datacentre equipment and consolidate to one network infrastructure for compute and storage.


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