A solution for an evergreen infrastructure and better storage

Cal Poly State University describes how an On Premise as a Service (OPaaS) approach enabled a new data storage infrastructure with better scalability, manageability and lower cost as it shifted to an IT as a Service (ITaaS) model.

evergreenLike many institutions, California Polytechnic State University, a public university with nearly 24,000 faculty, staff and students and a strong engineering and science focus, is shifting to a service provider model for its information technology resources. The goal was for the IT services group that is responsible for the majority of the campus applications and infrastructure to offer Information Technology as a Service (ITaaS) to each of the colleges and departments within the campus.

The IT services group relied on just one large NetApp storage array running mixed workloads for multiple departments. As a 7-year old resource, the NetApp array was coming off warranty and had functional limitations that didn’t fit the IT as a service model, where it needed to scale, be agile and more responsive to changing departmental needs. The multi-departmental demands had recently begun causing an I/O storm that was impacting everyone’s performance. The storage array was also complex and difficult to manage, causing delays in the team’s ability to respond to departmental requests for additional capacity.

The IT Services group knew it needed to make serious changes, but the team wasn’t sure that it had any options.

Learning about On-Premise as a Service

The IT services group learned of a novel concept called On-Premise as a Service – an example of the move toward software-defined data centers, where the infrastructure is virtualized and delivered as a service. The benefits of software-defined approaches have been proven in corporations of every size, but are relatively new in deployments at universities.

In the OPaaS approach, the vendor places the storage hardware and software on the universities premises and behind its firewall – yet the vendor manages the deployment remotely, with minimal assistance from university staff. The university pays for the resource on a per-use basis based only on the storage as used – and out of operating expense (OpEX) budgets, not CapEx.

Buying data storage the typical way – where teams try to predict storage needs for 3 to 5 years in advance, buy significantly more than needed, and pay for it as CapEx –is a process that teams have put up with for decades because there was no other way. When the 3- to 5-year window is up, organizations are forced to rip and replace the infrastructure and do it all again at significant hassle and expense.

(Next page: Zero upfront cost and better storage)

Zero Upfront Cost

With the OPaaS approach, Cal Poly had a way to obtain a brand new storage infrastructure, on site and behind its firewall, for zero upfront cost. The IT services group could choose the kind of equipment it wanted; for example, SATA disk drives or flash-based Solid State Drives (SSDs), or a mix, as well as to specify the performance as determined by the controller size and capacity) it chose. The OPaaS approach solves numerous management, scalability and performance issues – and keeps the storage within its data center, while still enjoying all the benefits of cloud pricing.

Cal Poly deployed the Zadara Storage Virtual Private Storage Array (VPSA) OPaaS solution in early 2015 and is now using it as the primary storage solution for centralized IT. Deploying this “Storage as a Service” approached enabled the team to create an infrastructure that is evergreen and will not need to be ripped and replaced in a few years; rather it evolves with the university as its needs change. It provides the scalability and elasticity to scale up, as well as to scale down – better adapting to each department’s needs and enabling them to pay only for the resources used – an innovation that translates into material savings and departmental agility.

Better Storage

With OPaaS, the university gained the economic benefits of a multi-tenant array, but maintains the performance isolation as if every department had its own storage. Storage management is vastly easier. It now takes just minutes to add new storage resources for departments, or address any other resource management needs. In addition, the OPaaS approach provides features appropriate for Cal Poly’s preferred service provider model of operation, including the ability to meter departmental storage usage.

Because the vendor handles all operation, maintenance and upgrades, the approach also lessened the time demand on team staff members, who could be freed to handle other more strategic initiatives. The vendor periodically replaces old hardware while keeping the data on-line and available so that Cal Poly will never have to migrate their data again. When and if the university needs more, or different storage resources, or when the state of the art advances, the OPaaS approach means the university can obtain it and pay for it in the say way: on a pay as you go basis, based on what is consumed. Best of all, because solution is provided as a service, IT Services can stay within its OpEx budget quarter over quarter.

Tim Schmidt is engineering services manager at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA where he manages the data center architecture team and is responsible for design, implementation and process improvement for new and existing data center hardware, software and services. He has more than 15 years of experience in IT management.