Cougars corral new SAN

BYU's storage dept. had to be as cagey as its mascot -- the cougar -- to complete the task of storing 30,000 students' data.

Brigham Young University's 30,000 students have a pretty innovative filing system: everyone gets their own Web-accessible...

"student portfolio" where they can store term papers, school projects, and other electronic data throughout their years at the university. When students leave the university, they can use their portfolios as electronic resumes. While the students might not think twice about the storage technology that enables this, it is a full-time job for BYU's Senior Storage Engineer Steve Eldredge.

The University's vision is to give each student 250M Bytes of portfolio space. Yet this goal, along with the faculty's growing need for additional storage capacity for their own research and data, called for some innovation from Eldredge and his team. The university would need at least 10T Bytes in the short term and eventually as much as 100T Bytes.

"We'd been putting people off for so long that the latent demand had just been growing and growing," said Eldredge.

BYU's approach was fitting for an educational institution. Eldredge and his team of about six engineers set out to learn all they could before they developed an RFP and a storage strategy. They spent three to four months researching their options and attended two storage technology seminars hosted by the Evaluator Group. Doing their own research helped them come up to speed with the industry and determine what options would meet the needs of the university.

"We had to answer the question for ourselves of what BYU needed before we went out and got confused by what everybody else thought we needed," said Eldredge.

BYU had been using IBM's Shark and a number of standalone machines that added up to a disparate storage system that wasn't easy to manage. Since they didn't have the ability to hire any more employees, they had to find a way to manage more storage with the same staff.

After their intensive research process, Eldredge says his team really felt like they had an advantage with the vendors. They knew they wanted a storage area network (SAN) -- and they knew manageability and virtualization were the most important features to help them attain their goal of doing more with less manpower. BYU pared its potential vendor list down to about six or seven that offered the features required; in many cases Eldredge had to bypass salespeople and consult vendors' technical staff to get the answers they needed.

Eldredge and his team eventually decided on HP's (previously Compaq) StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) system, which is a modular storage array of 12.2T Bytes. Eldredge says he felt confident that HP had ample experience in open systems and had the ability to deliver on the promises they'd made regarding connectivity for different operating systems.

"They also had a vision for virtualization and the ability to do things with virtualization that were still just on the drawing board for other vendors," Eldredge said.

BYU's system is currently at about 12T Bytes, but Eldredge expects that to double within six to eight months. His department has also been tasked with merging its data center with that of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. With the merger, Eldredge expects his department might need 100T Bytes over the next three years. He'll accommodate that by expanding the current system. "The HP EVA is modular, so expanding the current SAN with additional capacity and performance is easy," said Eldredge.

After a smooth three-day implementation process, BYU's new SAN is purring along. Eldredge says his team was even able to do a major switch upgrade without any outside consultation. And the new management tools have already saved his team time and given them a new level of flexibility -- now two people can manage what used to take ten people, says Eldredge. The ability to manage the system remotely also saves BYU time and money -- freeing up someone who'd previously been dedicated to storage to work on other projects or go out of town for training.

"I was out of town this past week and I was able to configure the switch and configure the SAN and allocate and de-allocate disk space -- do all the management functions -- from my hotel room via Web-based management tools," says Eldredge. "That was pretty cool."

For more information on BYU, visit its Web site.

Additional information on Compaq/HP storage can be found here.

The submissions are in and the judges are deciding the winners of the Storage Innovator awards. Recipients will be announced at Storage Decisions 2002.

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This was first published in August 2002

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