Universitys iSCSI Systems Make the Grade

Case Study: NCCU struggled with an increasing student population and storage demands; VeriStor helps it find a SAN solution from EqualLogic.

For a well-respected educational institution, North Carolina Central University had a storage system that was barely making the grade.

With more than 8,000 students and 1,600 faculty and staff members, the nations first public university founded for African-Americans relied on more than 50 servers with DAS (direct-attached storage) running on a hodgepodge of platforms, including Windows, Linux, Unix and Novell.

But a difficult-to-manage system only hinted at NCCUs real storage troubles.

Confronted with a recent uptick in student enrollment, the university was fast running out of storage space for backing up e-mail and other critical applications. As a result, e-mail messages often remained parked on a server until an NCCU network administrator could physically free up additional memory.

Servers were proliferating in every department solely to gain storage space for data, such as radio station music files and art department images.

With servers scattered in individual shops all over campus, NCCU was finding it extremely difficult to adhere to compliance and security policies set by the university and state government.

And plans to upgrade the universitys most critical application, a SunGard SCT Banner ERP (enterprise resource planning) tool, called for a sizable investment in storage technology, including backup, remote replication and disaster recovery.

"At that time, we were just throwing servers on the network to keep up with everything that was happening on campus," said Greg Marrow, NCCUs CIO, in Durham.

Marrow said he knew NCCU needed a solution that could handle a growing storage infrastructure, as well as support decades worth of financial and student records—documents that the university is legally bound to store under federal and state regulations.

So, in early 2005, Marrow and Cecil White, NCCUs IT director, embarked on a search for the perfect storage solution.

Fibre Channel was the first logical choice, Marrow said, given its popularity and proven track record for connecting computer servers to shared storage devices and transmitting data between devices at rates of up to 4G bps.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read the results of eWEEK Labs comparison between Fibre Channel and iSCSI.

But, upon reviewing solutions from Fibre Channel vendors including EMC and StorageTek, Marrow and White discovered that the high-level skills required to maintain a Fibre Channel storage system surpassed those of NCCUs six-person IT team. Whats more, the technologys exorbitant costs far exceeded the universitys meager IT budget.

Desperate for a suitable solution, NCCU decided to bring in a solutions integrator to assess its needs. NCCU turned to VeriStor Systems, a systems integrator that specializes in enterprise data storage solutions.

After working with NCCU to identify its primary challenges, VeriStor determined that an iSCSI SAN (storage area network) from EqualLogic was the most efficient and cost-effective means for meeting the universitys unique storage challenges.

iSCSI is an IP-based storage networking standard for connecting data storage facilities.

Because of the widespread popularity of IP networks, iSCSI can be used to transmit data over existing Ethernet networks such as LANs, WANs and the Internet at a fraction of the cost of Fibre Channel.

Whereas a Fibre Channel SAN requires the installation of high-priced host bus adapters and drivers, all it takes to connect a server to an iSCSI network is a Gigabit Ethernet network.

Next Page: iSCSI can be a tough sell.