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Private cloud replaces antiquated IT infrastructure for $300K per year

For the price of a SAN, Marian College is building a private cloud to create a flexible IT architecture and help transform the liberal arts school into a university.

Marian College's IT infrastructure is undergoing a metamorphosis as the private liberal arts college undergoes its own transformation -- into a university. Enrollment increases of 30% during the past three years had tapped out storage capacity, and as business needs changed IT couldn't accommodate new

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requests quickly with its fixed, physical computing infrastructure. When the IT department began to explore options for a storage area network (SAN), it became apparent that a private cloud could meet new storage demands and more.

So starting two years ago, the IT department, working with an advisory council of local IT experts, laid out more than a dozen objectives it needed to achieve in the 36 months to support student growth and increased mobility, add disaster recovery and replace antiquated systems.

The objectives were a tall order with a limited budget:

  • Acquire, configure, test and place into production a new SAN.
  • Design, acquire, configure and test new servers to augment/replace servers.
  • Acquire, configure, test and place into production faster/more capable firewalls.
  • Find a new and appropriate location for the server farm and network operations center (NOC).
  • Build a redundant server farm and NOC location that scales off-campus.
  • Build a hot site to provide full business continuity.
  • Lower capital costs.
  • Enable a faster recovery time objective and greater recovery point objective.
  • Remove proprietary hardware.
  • Leverage virtualization.
  • Become licensing proficient.
  • Lower complexity.
  • Standardize.

The new infrastructure would need to quickly accommodate IT requests, such as a request for a print server that would give the 2,200 students and more than 100 full- and part-time faculty members the ability to print from dozens of locations across the campus.

"We were thrown this curve ball a week before school started [this year]," said Mike Temaat, network engineer at the Indianapolis college. "If we were still doing things the old way, buying a new server alone would have taken a week."

Previously, more than a dozen physical servers with direct-attached storage supported production storage requirements and backups for Microsoft Exchange. Student, faculty and institutional data was distributed across personal clients all over the campus and at remote locations.

The setup was a management burden for IT, and it could not support the growing campus, which included a new residence hall, new athletics program and new curriculum, or the college's endeavor to position itself for significant growth.

Today, the college's IT capacity is a private cloud, built on the VMware Infrastructure 3 virtualization and management suite. Cloud infrastructure service provider BlueLock LLC was brought in to configure the servers, storage and virtual machines, which reside on campus and house centralized file shares and print shares. No longer is data distributed across campus. This year, after the IT department upgrades to Exchange Server 2007 and SQL Server 2008, those servers will be moved to the cloud as well, to share pooled resources.

"The difference [with private cloud computing] is that the infrastructure you're building can actually respond [to automated policies]," said Mark Bowker, an analyst at The Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in Milford, Mass. "Storage and networking infrastructure is sharing its intelligence and knowledge with higher-level management technology."

We were able to catapult the college forward several years because we went with a cloud that took several [objectives] ... and made it a single project.
Mike Temaat
network engineerMarian College
Temaat said the virtual infrastructure allows IT to respond quickly, if not dynamically, to the college's computing needs. For example, the nursing department was able to test a new application in the cloud to decide whether it fit the department's needs. Before, the IT department would have had to turn down the request because it had no room on its servers.

"Instead of being fixed into parameters of a physical server with X amount of RAM and disk space, we have a pool of resources that we can split up at a moment's notice or power up and down as the school's needs change," Temaat said.

The private cloud costs about $300,000 a year to run, which was in line with the college's budget for a new SAN. But it also met the majority of the IT objectives, including high availability, disaster recovery and business continuity, by including off-site replication and backup and recovery, hosted at a BlueLock site. The off-site replication probably would not have been approved as a single budget line item, Temaat said.

"We were able to catapult the college forward several years because we went with a cloud that took several [objectives] that were farther out, like off-site replication and virtualization, and made it a single project," Temaat said.

The next steps in the project include switching on a connection to BlueLock's external cloud to start replicating data off-site and moving student and staff accounts to the new Active Directory domain, which will also reside in the cloud.

"There are so many things we can do now for the user … users can just tell us what their needs are and we don't have to go through this long process of defining how to meet that need anymore," Temaat said. "We just adapt what we have and turn it on."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Christina Torode, Senior News Writer

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