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Barnsley College dumps IBM SANs for Tegile hybrid flash arrays

IBM DS3200 SANs retired as South Yorkshire college standardises on Tegile hybrid flash arrays in a move that cuts spend on new disk by £30,000 a year

Barnsley College has deployed Tegile hybrid flash storage in place of existing IBM SAN arrays in a move that has seen it save around £30,000 a year on replacement disk costs and has cut user complaints over log-on times to zero.

The college runs five main sites and several remote sites in the borough of Barnsley and serves around 9,000 students every year. It does so with a fully virtualised VMware infrastructure and IBM Bladecenter server arrchitecture. Core apps include student management, finance, payroll and HR as well as SQL, CAD and Adobe Creative Suite applications.

The existing storage infrastructure – comprising IBM DS3200 arrays – had a number of issues, including an inability to reliably run 8Gbps Fibre Channel, frequently losing connections and slow backup window times.

“The IBM SAN was supposed to run at 8Gbps, but we had to settle for 4 Gbps. It was something to do with a Qlogic switch not having been specced properly. We never resolved it, even with IBM people on site for weeks,” said Mark Kendrick, head of IT at Barnsley College.

“The storage was getting tired. Data transfer speeds, especially for disaster recovery, were becoming slow. Log-on times for student remote profiles were as long as three and a half minutes. The backup window for Microsoft Exchange was 36 hours. And we were buying more and more disk, which is really expensive with Fibre Channel drives.”

So, Kendrick’s team deployed a Tegile HA2100, a hybrid flash array with 22TB of capacity, of which 600Gb is flash.

Tegile’s multiprotocol (iSCSI, Fibre Channel and NAS) dual controller hybrid arrays use a combination of DRAM cache, MLC and SAS HDDs storage tiers with a ZFS-based OS adapted by Tegile to provide data deduplication, compression, RAID enhancements and a performance-boosting feature called MASS or Metadata Accelerated Storage System.

MASS allows data, once ingested, to be dealt with via just its metadata headers rather than the full copy. These are then kept in cache or SSD tiers.

The college has moved all its VMware servers and data to the Tegile array and has seen deduplication ratios of 80% to 90%. Pre-caching for student roaming profiles have also been moved to Tegile, with logon times cut from three and half minutes to 30 seconds, said Kendrick.

Migrating Exchange data to Tegile has seen its backup window (on Microsoft Data Protection Manager) reduced from 36 hours to 60 minutes.

Barnsley College has since ordered three more Tegile hyrbid flash arrays – two more HA2100s and a HA3100 – and plans to retire the IBM SANs by the end of 2015. A sixth form college will host a new disaster recovery site that will be equipped with Tegile storage.

Kendrick said the benefits have been measurable in financial terms – with costs of £30,000 per year on new disk avoided – but also in terms of user complaints.

“We were getting 40 or 50 complaints about log-on times every month. That’s now down to zero. We were spending £30,000 a year on disk, so we’ll pull back £20,000 a year for the next five years with the cost of the Tegile’s factored in,” he said. 

Read more about flash storage

Read more on Flash storage and solid-state drives (SSDs)

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Is this sort of situation common with IBM SANs, or was there something special about the college's use or configuration that made it such a problem?
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