Hyperconvergence

A school district IT manager shares the easiest way to keep a school’s data safe.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jefferson Davis

Standard School District Bakersfield CAAs a school district with approximately 2,900 students – three K-5 elementary schools and one middle school – the Standard School District in Bakersfield, California, takes pride in the way we use technology to help educate our students. While our computers and other technology tools are modern and up-to-date, our IT department is small: there are only three of us. With tight budgets, but with the need for a modern infrastructure that delivers the availability and scalability that our school district requires with such a small IT staff, it wasn’t easy to find a solution that met our requirements at an affordable cost.

Hyperconvergence — it sounds fancy, but it is the easiest way to keep our school’s mission-critical data and applications always available.

One of our top IT concerns has always been that the failure of a server hosting our mission critical applications would cause downtime. We outgrew the VMware ESXi 4.0 environment and, if we wanted high availability, we would have to more than double our investment on an already-expensive deployment. We still had a ways to go, with only 25 percent of our server infrastructure virtualized. Deploying VMware also required shared storage using either a Storage Area Network (SAN) or Network Attached Storage (NAS) and would have required more IT resources. We could not afford that.

I looked at legacy solutions such as HP LeftHand, EMC and NetApp, as most IT guys would do at the beginning of their search. Then we heard of Scale Computing and their HC3 platform that combines commodity hardware with Scale Computing’s ICOS patented software technology to deliver an integrated, highly available virtualization platform. The industry calls that hyperconvergence. Instead of three boxes, you have one — and because they leverage open source virtualization (KVM) — I don’t have to deal with licensing costs and the complexity that comes along with licensing. In fact, HC3 makes it so that I don’t have to worry about the hypervisor. That was a key selling point for us. HC3 made the architecture—for storage and for virtualization—much simpler than what traditional virtualization vendors are currently doing, at a much lower price point. We saved us about 75 percent of what the other solutions quoted us for licenses, storage and additional servers.

HC3 eliminates the guessing game of trying to figure out how much storage you need for your VMs, and the need for any kind of unnecessary upfront capex investment, because of the scale-out architecture. This clustered architecture provides both the high availability and scalability needed for our environment, and dramatically simplifies management. When we create a VM on HC3, it is automatically made highly available. In the event of a full node failure, HC3 will restart the VMs on that node to the other nodes in the cluster without any manual intervention.

HC3 does not require storage protocols, networking or provisioning. On the storage side, there are no RAID sets, iSCSI targets or LUNs, multi-pathing, storage security, zoning or fabric for Standard School District to setup or manage. On the server side, we no longer have to deal with the complexity of iSCSI initiators, host and VM file systems, server clusters and policies. To create a new virtual machine (VM), we simply assign the resources necessary for the VM and load the operating system. This way, the district was able to save hours of unnecessary overhead in the deployment of new VMs.

By taking advantage of hyperconvergence, Standard School District would be able to realize the benefits of a fully virtualized environment without the added complexity of a typical virtualization deployment – all at a fraction of the costs of deploying the VMware solution.

We expect that, after only several months, to move from 24U of servers and storage down to just 4U – giving the school district significant savings in terms of complexity and cost savings in power and cooling. When we need more compute or storage resources for the HC3 system, we can now simply purchase additional nodes for the system. Adding these nodes is as simple as racking and cabling the power and networking. The additional resources are then recognized by the HC3 system and added to the overall pool of storage and compute resources.

Hyperconvergence — it sounds fancy, but it is the easiest way to keep our school’s mission-critical data and applications always available.

Jefferson Davis is Technology and Information Systems Manager, Standard School District, Bakersfield, California.

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