Published on 29-Sep-2011
"The IBM System Storage technology has given us the ability to meet end users’ storage needs easily and efficiently, supporting 24×7 availability." - Lou Passarello, Assistant Director at the Network Operations Center, University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh
Business Resiliency, Energy Efficiency, High Availability , Virtualization, Virtualization - Storage
The University of Pittsburgh is one of the oldest educational institutions in the United States and has evolved into an internationally recognized center of learning and research. With five campuses located in western Pennsylvania, the university serves over 32,000 graduate and undergraduate students and 14,000 faculty and staff members. The mission of the university is to provide high-quality undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs that advance the artistic, scientific and professional prospects of Pennsylvania’s citizens.
Continuously growing data volumes were putting pressure on the University of Pittsburgh’s storage infrastructure. Managing and provisioning storage was complex and time-consuming.
Deployed a fully virtualized two tier storage infrastructure, including two IBM® System Storage® DS8800 arrays and an IBM Storwize® V7000 system, managed using IBM SAN Volume Controller.
IT teams can provision new storage rapidly and painlessly, drastically reducing administrative workload and increasing user satisfaction; storage virtualization boosts flexibility.
The University of Pittsburgh is one of the oldest educational institutions in the United States and has evolved into an internationally recognized center of learning and research. With five campuses located in western Pennsylvania, the university serves over 32,000 graduate and undergraduate students and 14,000 faculty and staff members. The mission of the university is to provide high-quality undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs that advance the artistic, scientific and professional prospects of Pennsylvania’s citizens, as well as responding to the broader needs of the nation and the world.
The Computing Services and Systems Development department plays a key role in providing innovative technologies for education and research at the university. A dedicated team within this department continually evaluates technologies and solutions on the market to ensure that the University of Pittsburgh’s infrastructure remains optimized, helping the university remain highly competitive.
Challenges of fragmented storage
The department recognized that evolving its storage infrastructure could help it cope more efficiently with exploding data volumes. With technology playing an increasing role in students’ research and the university offering new avenues to learning such as distance learning and remote access to applications, data volumes could only continue to rise. The existing storage structure made it difficult for the IT teams to provision storage to meet users’ needs, and upgrades often called for downtime, threatening continuity of service.
Lou Passarello, Assistant Director at the Network Operations Center at the University of Pittsburgh explains, “Over the last two years, we have seen a 20 - 25 percent increase in data volumes stored by the university, bringing us into the 500 TB range. Throughout our industry, we see users treating storage capacity more and more like a utility that is available ‘on tap’—like running water. They simply expect it to be available, and while we wanted to meet this expectation, the old system made it impossible.
“Previously, we had physically separate islands of storage in place serving critical applications, such as student information and financial systems. Enhancements and upgrades needed to be carried out manually as there was no single point of control, jeopardizing availability. It was difficult to optimize utilization of available storage as we had to estimate how much capacity we thought an application would require and fix that at the outset.”
Selecting IBM technology
The Computer Services and Systems Development department resolved to create a storage area network (SAN) strategy, and began seeking the best technology to support this. A two tier array based on IBM technology was chosen, with two IBM System Storage DS8800 storage systems forming the first tier, and an IBM Storwize V7000 disk system forming the second tier. IBM SAN Volume Controller provides a single management interface for control of the virtualized storage infrastructure.
“The IBM technology really stood out for us,” says Passarello. “Each component has proved ideal for our needs. The IBM System Storage DS8800 systems more than double the amount of cache available to us, providing some much needed breathing space and giving users faster access to data. The IBM Storwize V7000 is built specifically as a tier-two array, giving us cost-effective capacity for less demanding applications.
“The real star of the solution, however, is the IBM SAN Volume Controller which really takes on the heavy lifting when it comes to allocating capacity to applications intelligently. It enables us to use techniques such as thin provisioning to maximize utilization of resources.”
Working with IBM, the Computing Services and Systems Development department at the University of Pittsburgh was able to migrate all data to the new solution with no downtime.
“We were very impressed with the quality of IBM’s support,” comments Passarello. “They did not just help us with the installation but also assisted in configuring the IBM SAN Volume Controller in a redundant fashion to ensure we met the availability targets we had in place. With help from IBM engineers, we were able to carry out migration of data in the background, while applications were still online and in use, with barely any effect on performance.”
Breaking down walls with virtualization
The IBM solution makes it possible for IT teams at the University of Pittsburgh to provision new storage quickly and efficiently, responding faster to users’ needs. This cuts down significantly on day-to-day management of storage, and allows the university’s students to work more effectively.
“Creating a storage infrastructure based on IBM technology has had a significant positive impact on both the IT teams and end users,” explains Passarello. “Provisioning new storage is now just a matter of a couple of mouse clicks, so we can fulfill requests for more capacity almost immediately, and adjust the amount allocated on the fly. From the end-user perspective, they can have a ‘no-holds-barred’ attitude to their research, focusing on innovating without worrying about whether the resources will be there to support them.”
Boosting resiliency and stability
The university prides itself on offering unbeatable levels of availability to users, which was becoming harder and harder to maintain on the old storage system. The built-in redundancy of the new IBM solution contributes to impressive availability levels. The solution also now plays a key role in the university’s disaster recovery plan, with data mirrored between the production and disaster recovery site in almost real time.
“I work at the university’s Networks Operations Center, which monitors the university applications, server infrastructure and network,” says Passarello. “We are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to deal with events. So having extremely stable and resilient IBM storage technology in place definitely makes our lives easier. Almost real-time mirroring of data to our disaster recovery site means that in the unlikely event of a disaster, we can bounce back losing as little data as possible.”
Cost-effective and energy efficient
“Another advantage of moving to the IBM enterprise storage solution was the compact design, requiring much less data center floor space and power than the discrete storage islands we had in place before,” comments Passarello. “This leads to lower costs that really make a difference to our bottom line, enabling us to reinvest the money saved to benefit the university.”
He concludes, “The IBM System Storage technology has given us the ability to meet end users’ storage needs easily and efficiently, supporting 24×7 availability. We really feel the IBM team are behind us every step of the way as we continue to optimize technology to enable students and researchers alike to achieve whatever they need to, while we stay in the background, delivering capacity in a flexible and intelligent way.”
Products and services used
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