Storage Platform Gets High Marks at UNC Charlotte
The university migrated to a consolidated storage platform to improve computing performance, streamline IT and prepare for anticipated needs in the future.
As organizations wade deeper into the digital workplace, storage systems become an increasingly critical piece of the business and IT puzzle. But not all devices and platforms are created equal.
"Performance and reliability are critical issues," explains Jesse Beauman, assistant vice chancellor for enterprise infrastructure at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC).
In 2014, the public university, which serves about 28,700 students at a 1,000-acre campus, recognized the need to modernize its storage infrastructure to better handle data, including ERP and other enterprise systems that hold financial records, research data and much more.
"Everything was Fibre Channel, and the systems from multiple vendors were five to seven years old," Beauman says. "There were performance issues, there were equipment failures, and we were swapping out hard drives almost daily across a wide variety of systems. We realized that we had to move to a next-generation storage infrastructure."
The IT team conducted an inventory of existing assets, as well as anticipated needs extending out a decade. After evaluating several vendors over the course of about six months, UNC Charlotte selected an Adaptive Flash Platform from Nimble Storage. It went live with CS700 storage arrays in May 2015.
The technology offered an attractive price point, desired performance, energy savings and features that match the university's IT requirements, according to Beauman. The hybrid arrays, which run in two separate campus data centers located about a mile apart, have delivered several benefits.
For instance, Beauman reports that the university has achieved power and heat savings hovering around 80 percent, partly by reducing the footprint roughly in half. In the past, IT staff members spent as much as 30 percent of their time troubleshooting and fixing problems. That has dropped to near zero. At the same time, the storage arrays have increased storage capacity by about 25 percent.
Most importantly, the system offers total visibility into devices and data, including cache consumption on the arrays. Beauman and his staff can now identify performance problems in real time and spot a failing drive immediately using InfoSight, a Nimble Storage predictive analytics tool.
UNC Charlotte is currently using about 60 percent of its overall storage capacity. All the data is encrypted, and the system supports multiple locations across the campus, as well as on mobile devices. The data is replicated across the two data centers. The system automatically determines which data resides on the spinning disks and which data is stored on the flash components.
The university also uses open-source Bacula software and Veeam backup software to ensure that all campus data is also backed up in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. "We have the data available both locally and in the cloud in multiple regions," Beauman explains.
The storage framework has helped UNC Charlotte adapt to an increasingly challenging IT environment, while preparing for the future. "We have experienced a huge improvement in performance and costs," Beauman reports. "The university has moved to a storage framework that fully supports today's digital requirements."