Suffolk university dumps failing IBM DS SAN and gets Fujitsu DX-80s

University Campus Suffolk couldn’t go on when IBM “washed its hands” of a failing DS4700. After disastrous pitches from numerous storage suppliers it went with Fujitsu

University Campus Suffolk (UCS) dumped a failing IBM DS4700 SAN and replaced it with a pair of Fujitsu DX-80s. The organisation made the £140,000 move after IBM “washed its hands” of the troublesome DS4700 and it needed reliable storage for its virtualisation project.

UCS – with its main site in Ipswich – has 9,000 students and 850 staff that access the organisations IT systems via smartphones, laptops and desktops.

It is currently part way through a project to deliver apps that range from office productivity to specialised departmental applications from a virtualised infrastructure and is currently at the 35% mark.

A prerequisite for a successful virtualisation project is reliable shared storage, but UCS had long suffered from performance and availability problems with an IBM DS4700 SAN that often failed, said John Herd, head of IT at UCS.

He said: “The previous SAN, an IBM DS4700, fell over a lot. We spent 18 months trying to get things right until IBM washed its hands of it. We suffered catastrophic data losses that included a two-week rebuild from backups of all data and another occasion where all email was lost.”

He added: “One problem was that backups were staged to disk on the IBM SAN and it wasn’t performant enough to cope. We asked around the channel for a generic, simple, scalable system and were recommended Fujitsu.”

In the end IBM “washed its hands” of the issues with the DS SAN and UCS’ IT department decided it wouldn’t try to keep it going without supplier support.

Herd’s team began to look around for a new SAN to support the virtualisation project and eventually settled on Fujitsu DX-80, but not after a lot of other storage suppliers had tried and failed to sell them inappropriate or expensive solutions.

UCS Director of IT Peter O’Rourke reeled off a list of storage suppliers that offered systems that were too costly or inappropriately specified for the organisation’s needs.

HP said: “'You need an EVA’ and showed the price tag of £750,000. When I got back onto my chair, I said we didn’t need all those features,” said O’Rourke.

IBM offered a successor system, said O’Rourke, also with an “eye-watering” price tag while Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) offered “the wrong system at the wrong price”. Meanwhile, “Dell seemed to be at year end and keen to dump anything onto us,” said the director of IT.

Finally there was EMC. “The price was laughable,” said O’Rourke. “They seemed to have no comprehension of the financial or technical capabilities we possessed in relation to the systems they wanted to sell to us.”

Finally, Fujitsu offered “a reasonable system at a reasonable price,” said head of IT, Herd.

Herd added: “Fujitsu is boringly reliable and as a technical person I will take that every time. I don’t want exciting or unpredictable; I want it to do the same thing every time. We didn’t want snapshots or replication or lots of features but a simple, affordable storage system.”

What UCS eventually settled on was two Fujitsu DX80s with SAS (circa 44TB) and SATA (128TB) drives with no snapshots and no replication. It is split into A and B SANs. Each stores some of the university’s key application data and each backs up to the other and then to IBM tape.

The key benefit for UCS is that it has shared storage that works reliably to support its virtualisation project, said O’Rourke.

“We’ve got a 100% increase in storage reliability,” he said “We’d got to the point with the IBM SAN that our technical staff wouldn’t define, expand or contract LUNs on the DS because they knew it would go bang.”

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