Industry News Desk
Illinois School Districts Get Affordable Cloud Services
Cloud Computing Storage for Schools
By: Heidi Schreifels
May. 5, 2011 12:15 PM
IlliniCloud is a non-profit cooperative that hosts applications for school administration, facilities management, student performance tracking, multimedia, and library management for K–12 school districts throughout Illinois. To optimize the delivery of these services through its private cloud and to help member districts manage annual data growth of up to 300 percent, IlliniCloud chose F5® BIG-IP® Application Delivery Controllers and ARX® intelligent storage virtualization products. With these solutions, IlliniCloud can provide cost-effective and highly reliable cloud-based applications to member districts. The co-op significantly reduced its storage costs and recouped its ARX investment in less than one year.
Managing data is one of the biggest challenges districts face; many are hardpressed to provide adequate storage capacity, and they need better tools for managing, disseminating, and archiving data. “Between the rising demand formultimedia and the requirement of districts to keep administrative and student records ‘forever,’ annual storage requirements are increasing as much as 300 percent, depending on the district,” says Jason Radford, System Administrator for IlliniCloud and Bloomington Public Schools. In addition, nearly 95 percent of school districts lack disaster recovery (DR) plans, so applications and data are potentially at risk. For those districts that have DR plans in place, backup sites are located too close to the districts to provide true protection.
With one of the largest IT budgets of all 860 Illinois school districts, Bloomington Public Schools wanted to help relieve the financial and management burden for smaller districts. In 2007, it founded IlliniCloud, a non-profit cooperative that offers IT services to districts on an opt-in basis. IlliniCloud dodged the expense of building new data centers by using three existing facilities owned by local districts. The co-op deployed 30 VMware virtual servers based on HP/Cisco converged computing platforms. Internet access, video conferencing, and multimedia sharing are facilitated by Illinois Century Network.
“To build out our private cloud infrastructure, we needed a solution that could provide intelligent traffic management and ensure redundancy if a network component failed or had to be taken offline for maintenance or patching,” says Radford. Equally important, the co-op needed a cost-effective way to help school districts manage and store rapidly rising amounts of student and administrative data. “We were looking for a standardsbased, vendor-neutral data management solution so we wouldn’t be locking up our data in a proprietary solution,” says Radford.
The solution also needed to be tightly integrated with Microsoft Active Directory and provide economical long-term scalability.
“By leveraging the BIG-IP product we were able to simplify both our application delivery model while also providing a level of multidata-center redundancy that would not be possible with other products. The built-in, simple yet powerful iRules language is truly a revolutionary toolset that doesn’t require a certified network expert to understand or use. It’s empowering,” says Radford.
After evaluating several storage vendors’ offerings, IlliniCloud concluded that none matched the advanced file virtualization, storage tiering, and data archiving capabilities of F5’s ARX Series solution, which IlliniCloud deployed in July 2010. “We eliminated one leading storage vendor when we realized they couldn’t provide features that we felt were critical to helping us manage our growth,” says Radford, adding that the solution also would have meant a vendor lock-in, both hardware and software, and entailed expensive ongoing professional service engagements.
Because ARX uses industry-standard access protocols, it is compatible with most NAS storage devices. As a result, IlliniCloud can enforce intelligent data management policies and automate storage management tasks in real time on its Oracle/Sun Storage 7000 Unified Storage System devices, which also provide data corruption protection. “The F5 ARX solution nailed all of our requirements,” says Radford. “It was storage-agnostic, tightly integrated with Active Directory, and performed exactly as advertised in terms of cost and storage efficiency.”
be available and responsive. Because BIG-IP LTM inspects and responds to any system, server, or application failure, applications and services are always available.
“The BIG-IP devices provide the redundancy and uptime we require—even when the local ISP or a server goes down—so our users always have reliable access to applications and services,” says Radford.
Protects IT Investment
compression, caching, and other optimizations that BIG-IP provides not only help increase our server capacity, they also improve our bandwidth utilization, both of which contribute significantly to lowering our costs.”
“The BIG-IP devices provide redundancy and uptime…so users always have reliable access to applications.”
Likewise, ARX delivered a solid return on investment for IlliniCloud. “The ARX storage virtualization solution not only exceeded our expectations in terms of capabilities, it paid for itself within a year. I wouldn’t run a data center without it,” says Radford.
Reduces Infrastructure and Operating Costs
“That’s a 95 percent savings in overall IT costs for member districts.” Additionally, the availability of these services lifts a huge burden from smaller districts that previously relied on staff and teachers to manage IT resources in their spare time.
Using ARX policy-based management and automatic storage tiering capabilities, IlliniCloud was able to reclaim a significant amount of tier 1 storage capacity. “We started off with 30 TB of tier 1 fibre channel, and recovered 80 percent of it using just one ARX storage policy,” says Radford. With more available tier 1 storage capacity, the co-op can defer these costly fibre channel storage purchases for 12 months. In the meantime, if more capacity is needed, IlliniCloud can purchase SATA drives that, on a cost pergigabyte basis, are 65 percent less expensive than fibre channel disks.
Less tier 1 data requires less time for administrators to routinely back up, which ultimately helps lower IlliniCloud’s operating costs. “We don’t need to worry about managing as much storage, watching our resources, and keeping up with storage growth in unstructured file data. That’s worth at least half of a full-time employee’s time,” says Radford.
Enables Policy-Based Management
“ARX also gives us the flexibility to set policies based on file type, so we have another policy that automatically stores multimedia directly onto SATA drives.” Radford adds that one of the best things about ARX’s policy-based management features is that data migrations are transparent to users. “Our initial data migration to tiered storage took three or four days and was entirely non-disruptive—the users didn’t even know it was happening.
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