College boosts student access with DataCore software-defined storage

Kirklees College uses DataCore SAN symphony software-defined storage and NexSan arrays for online student access

West Yorkshire-based Kirklees College has boosted student interaction with its online learning system fivefold with the help of a storage system revamp based on DataCore software-defined storage and NexSan storage arrays.

The improvements follow an infrastructure refresh that saw ageing EMC storage arrays replaced in 2013.

Kirklees College has around 20,000 students and 1,000 staff. Students use Microsoft Office 365 and Moodle as a virtual learning environment. Student administration is via Compass Pro suite, with finance and human resource applications, and Microsoft Sharepoint and Exchange.

Currently the college is in the process of virtualising servers. There are 90 virtual machines (VMs) and more than 30 physical servers, the latter in outlying sites or still serving file and print and anti-virus.

The college deployed DataCore SANsymphony (now at version 10) on two Dell PowerEdge 710 server nodes at its main Huddersfield Waterfront site, with physical storage supplied by two NexSan E60s with around 5TB of SAS capacity, split into tiers one and two and differentiated by Raid level (Raid 10 and Raid 5 respectively).

In this scheme, Raid 10 mirrors data between sets of drives while also striping data across them to provide high levels of availability with data protection. Raid 5 uses unmirrored sets of drives with parity to recover lost data in case of failure.

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Beneath the top-tier E60s are a NexSan SataBeast with around 6TB of Sata capacity in total, divided between tiers defined by Raid 5 and 6. Both of these use parity for data protection, but Raid 6 doubles parity data and comes with a heavier access time overhead.

Simon Powell, senior storage engineer at Kirklees, said the tiering policy is set by IT staff.

“If we need SQL databases on tier one, for example, we can change that during the course of an afternoon,” he said.

At the college’s Dewsbury site there is one Dell server with DataCore and two SataBeast arrays to which logical unit numbers (LUNs) are replicated from the main location for disaster recovery purposes.

Backup is via Veeam for virtual machines and Microsoft Data Protection Manager for physical servers. Snapshots are also used for quicker recovery, using Veeam and DataCore.

Jonathan Wilkinson, head of IT at Kirklees, said the key benefit of the DataCore/NexSan deployment has been that the new environment has allowed it to meet Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (Feltag) recommendations in 2014. This allowed the college to combine self-directed study and traditionally delivered learning and to respond to unpredictable levels of student demand.

“We didn’t know how students would take to the virtual environment. In 2014 we had 25,000 hits per month, which a year later was up fivefold to 125,000. software-defined storage gives us the ability to react to the needs of the business,” said Wilkinson. 

“We’ve been able to increase storage on the fly with software-defined storage,” said Powell. “I can add any storage I want as long as the college buys it.”

DataCore is a software storage product that customers can install on any suitable server hardware. It provides storage virtualisation functions that can pool disk on direct-attached storage or commodity or legacy arrays to created shared storage.

Read more on SAN, NAS, solid state, RAID