It falls to Randy Raine, Associate Director of Servers and Storage at SFU, and his team of 12 people to manage all central server and storage needs for the institution—a job with increasing demands and complexity. The group’s responsibilities include managing a VMWare farm of approximately 1200 VMs and several petabytes of storage. The team also provides system database administration services. Taking advantage of the top-notch services and lower costs, more and more faculty and departments at SFU have moved from operating their own servers and turned to this centralized IT team for help. A surprising fact is that Raine’s group were supporting a 9% server growth per month without a staff increase, a feat that speaks to the constant attention on efficient operations and minimizing disruption.
When the calendar marked the start of the 3 year planning cycle, we (Scalar, a long time NetApp partner with a strong history and relationship providing solutions to SFU) and Raine sat down to discuss requirements. At the top of the priority list was dealing with the existing NetApp storage solution that was at the end of support and coming off lease. While SFU had been very happy with the solution, the refresh cycle provided a window of opportunity to take advantage of new features that would allow staff to keep up with growing storage demands while managing with limited resources.
Scalar understood the issues we were dealing with in the migration and were with us the whole way.
Working together, SFU and our team identified several factors critical in the decision making process:
Raine wanted to continue to provide excellent services to the community. Minimizing disruption to users in the migration process was a key consideration not just for this move but also for the future. According to Raine, the ideal scenario would be never having to do a disruptive migration again.
Investment Protection and Cost Containment
SFU had been working with NetApp technology for years and had invested significantly in training and skills over that time. Ideally, any new solution would minimize gaps in expertise and avoid a steep learning curve. In addition, minimizing the cost of migrating users was a must.
Move to modernize
Identifying technology capabilities that would align to SFU’s future direction was part of the planning process. In particular, easily increasing storage capacity, clustering, and monitoring were recognized as interesting opportunities.
Over the course of a few meetings, we worked closely with SFU to determine how data was classified and used. We reviewed migration methodologies with real case examples and partnered with NetApp to address technical risks that might be encountered in the migration. With costs, minimal business disruption, flexibility, and investment protection in mind, SFU and our team determined that the best choice was a NetApp FAS8040 located at the Burnaby campus and a FAS8020 located at the Surrey campus. Other options were reviewed but the ultimate choice was clear to Raine: “We are very comfortable with NetApp technology and Scalar has always done well for us—it was an easy decision”.
No Downtime, No Disruptions
Servicing a diverse user community operating around the clock means that it can be a giant headache to schedule downtime for upgrades and migrations. Relieved and happy that the new NetApp solution is likely the last major disruptive storage upgrade required, Raine commented, “Normally we have to plan for months and spend a lot of time communicating impact to users in order to make major changes. Now we can pretty much avoid any kind of user disruption.” With the non-disruptive operations features found in Clustered Data ONTAP, downtime is eliminated and allows the SFU team to service the infrastructure—even during regular business hours—without disrupting access to user data and applications
We are very comfortable with NetApp technology and Scalar has always done well for us—it was an easy decision.
According to SFU, the option to move data and add hardware quickly and easily without impacting users is one of the reasons for selecting NetApp. “Typically, we would have to spend significant time each year forecasting storage requirements. Now we can easily add more disk space when we need it, taking out the guess work and buying only what we need when we need it. That really simplifies the planning process and keeps costs in check”, said Raine.
Flattening the Learning Curve
It’s always a challenge to learn a new technology and be able to leverage all of its new features. The move to the new OS was no exception. However, the team’s existing knowledge of NetApp was a good place to start and a close working relationship with our team and NetApp helped with the necessary knowledge transfer.
When we proposed the new hardware and migration plan to SFU, we did it in a way that SFU could reuse some components from their previous solution to enhance investment protection. For example, SFU didn’t have to rebuy all of their hard drives but could use some existing ones and expand as they went.
For SFU, the new solution was exactly what they were looking for to address today’s requirements and grow with their needs. The implementation was as easy as it could have been. According to Raine, “Scalar understood the issues we were dealing with in the migration and were with us the whole way”. Raine can’t stress enough that the biggest benefit is to the user community at SFU. They benefit directly from the non-disruptive nature of the NetApp solution and the fact that Raine’s team can continue to deliver great support while managing growth and change. Raine also emphasizes that “A big plus was working with Scalar – they’ve been marvelous and we appreciate their partnership”.