Palm Beach Community College

Pools storage from mainframe and servers into 10-Tbyte SAN, including blade servers, SVC

January 22, 2006

4 Min Read
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Virtualization is one of those topics storage vendors talk a lot about while failing to convince customers.

Still, there are brave souls out there willing to give it a shot. Tony Parziale, CIO of Palm Beach Community College, has been virtualizing the colleges storage and servers since June. PBCC spent $1.6 million on IBM hardware, software, and services, to tie data kept on old mainframes and direct attached storage into one storage pool on a SAN.

PBCC’s new gear includes a zSeries 890 midrange mainframe running five SUSE Linux partitions, a 10-Tbyte IBM DS6800 connected to the mainframe, two BladeCenter blade server chassis, SAN Volume Controller (SVC) to bring all the storage into one pool, and Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) for backup.

“It’s a virtual world,” Parziale says. “The way I look at it, we have one opportunity every four years to make a major architectural change. The easier solution would have been to stay with the technology we had. But we achieved a lot of costs savings. Going to Linux eliminated proprietary software that was costing us $30,000 a month in licensing. We also eliminated storage and server sprawl and could consolidate our IT staff.”

PBCC can rightly be called a pioneer. Consider that in recent IT spending surveys, virtualization is a low priority among buyers. A Goldman Sachs survey of 100 IT managers at Fortune 1000 firms released this week shows only 29 percent are considering implementing storage virtualization over the next 12 months. Those findings track with studies done by others during the last year. (See Virtually Nowhere.)None of that has slowed PBCC, which now stores all its data on its SAN. That includes academic and financial records for 49,000 students and 2,000 employees, distance-learning servers, patient records for its dental hygiene school, and student registration forms.

When all of that was spread over unattached servers, Parziale says backups required more than 24 hours. Now he says his backups take five hours. He’s also reduced his number of servers from more than 100 to around 50, with plans for further reduction.

While Parziale was bold enough to take on virtualization, he insisted on picking just one vendor while evaluating systems last year. “When you have a multi-vendor environment, that’s when the finger pointing starts,” he says.

He also looked at arrays from EMC and Hitachi Data Systems. He liked the IBM arrays, but what clinched it for him was that IBM also had servers to go with its storage.

“EMC Symmetrix and Hitachi TagmaStore are great products, but they don’t have a [mainframe] box, and they’re not single-vendor solutions."EMC didn’t get completely shut out, though. Its VMware server virtualization software plays a big role in PBCC's consolidation plans.

“Before, if I needed another application I wanted to test or do a proof of concept, I had to buy a server, wait for it to come in, and configure it. Now I just provision one of my servers, and get it running in hours instead of weeks.”

PBCC was one of the early adopters of the DS6800, IBM’s midrange system that was launched in October 2004 but required a code re-write before volume sales began in the middle of last year. (See IBM's New Shark Tale and IBM Denies Slipped Ship Date.)

Parziale says implementation was smooth for the most part, although there were hiccups.

“There are always glitches. That’s where a single vendor solution worked out. IBM had to go back to the labs a couple of times. Once, the way the LUNs connected, TSM didn’t see the volume they were in and wiped something out. IBM reinstalled TSM for us and did a workaround to make sure it didn’t happen again. Another time, a backup failed and didn’t notify us. IBM went back and wrote a script. Some of the things we both learned will end up in future products.”Parziale’s 60-person IT group isn’t quite finished. Future plans include setting up a remote site, and it has an RFP out for a document imaging system to digitize paper records.

“One thing Katrina taught us: If the flood waters come in, it ruins all your records,” Parziale says. “We’ve been around 72 years. We have a lot of paper transcripts.”

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Goldman Sachs & Co.

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Palm Beach Community College

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