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Flash storage reinvigorates Sydney school district’s centralised IT

A school district in Sydney has improved the performance of its storage infrastructure through a flash-based infrastructure

A suburban Sydney school district has tripled the performance of its IT infrastructure after introducing a flash storage infrastructure that has more than halved its datacentre footprint.

With more than 43,000 students and 4,500 staff spread across 56 primary and 22 secondary schools, the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP), covering a large area in the west of Sydney, has built up a significant computing infrastructure over the years to deliver all manner of educational resources to its facilities.

Two datacentres provide redundant technology support to more than 50,000 devices, with one facility supporting essential school systems and a second environment supporting administrative systems including finance, human resources (HR) and payroll.

Opportunities to consolidate these resources have always weighed high on the list of priorities, and when the IT team began reviewing storage utilisation in 2014 it became clear that there was an opportunity to reduce the amount of datacentre space – more than a rack and a half – that the organisation’s storage systems were consuming.

“Our priority is to maximise the use of limited resources, to ensure they are used for the benefit of students,” said Paul Meldrum, chief innovation officer at CEDP.

He added that when reviewing storage consumption, it saw an opportunity to upgrade to a new system and reduce the footprint, as well as associated costs such as power and cooling.

A review of options with integration partner Secure Agility hit on the idea of replacing the storage with flash-based storage, a higher-speed infrastructure that has only become a viable storage replacement with the commoditisation of the technology in recent years.

Recent research found that Australia leads the Asia-Pacific region in the adoption of flash-based storage systems, which have been deployed in 26% of Australian businesses, compared with 15.7% of Asia-Pacific companies.

Read more about IT storage investments in Australia

CEDP’s work with Secure Agility led to the choice of flash storage arrays from Nimble and the implementation of a Nimble SmartStack – combining CS300 and CS500 arrays and VMware architecture in Cisco Systems’ Unified Computing System architecture. Use of the Nimble Storage InfoSight portal allows CEDP staff to monitor storage usage to the level of the individual VMware virtual machine.

By the time the two-month migration was complete, CEDP had trimmed the storage in its primary datacentre by 44%, eliminating around 12TB of storage thanks to built-in compression. A second installation, at the administrative datacentre, replaced 35TB of conventional disk storage with 8.5TB of flash-based storage in its administrative datacentre.

“We were a bit worried in the beginning because we were going from a rack and a half of storage to just eight rack units,” said system support officer Tristan Slusarczyk.

“We weren’t sure if we were going to take a performance hit, but it exceeded our expectations. We can see what we are running today and how much of the system we are using.”

This visibility has helped the organisation further its case for centralised computing infrastructure, Slusarczyk added.

“We can go to schools that have locally hosted services and offer to put those services on our infrastructure. It’s a simple tool for capacity planning,” he said. 

With the new storage bedded down, the system will also be used to store regular snapshots to support its CommVault-based backup environment. “We’ve gone through some storage disasters in the past, so we like the idea of greater security and peace of mind. It’s something we couldn’t previously do,” said Slusarczyk.

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