University of Hawaii

UH stretches across four islands, and so does its storage

June 7, 2002

3 Min Read
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Almost 5,000 miles southwest of New York City, on the tropical island of Oahu, Hawaii, IT systems director Brian Chee is getting his storage network in order.

It’s not all Hawaiian skirts and huli-huli sauce, you know,” says Chee, who has worked for the IT systems department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) for seven years. “Some people do have a problem with the view, though!”

The University of Hawaii (UH) is an interesting case study from a network storage perspective, as it's spread out across four islands -- Oahu, Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui -- and comprises three university campuses, seven community college campuses, an employment training center, and five education centers.

In addition to the flagship campus at of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the UH system also includes the 3,000-student University of Hawaii at Hilo on the island of Hawaii and the smaller University of Hawaii-West Oahu on the leeward side of Oahu.

The education centers are located in the more remote areas of the state and support the rural communities via distance education. This is where Chee and his team of seven other IT staffers have a slight challenge on their hands. An increasingly important part of their job is to extend UH’s curriculum to these community colleges. “It makes sense, as after-hours education is a way of increasing revenue for the University,” says Chee.The curriculum material is scattered across roughly 25 network-attached storage servers. Chee estimates the amount of data at around 3 terabytes, and this is expected to triple within a few years. “We have thought about implementing a SAN for better throughput, but there’s no money for that right now. Maybe next year, if the budget allows.”

In the more rural areas of the Hawaiian Islands, connectivity is limited and remote management of the data is complicated. “These end nodes do not have the best connectivity,” explains Chee. “Some of them are on a 56K dial-up, some are on cable modems, and others are attached on a part-time basis to the hand-me-down satellite we got from the U.S. Army.”

He says the content to be delivered includes large streaming audio of lectures and accompanying data files, all of which is extremely slow and expensive to download over a dial-up connection.

Chee was tasked with finding a way to pre-place content out at the fringes of the network, where it could be more easily accessed by the students and avoid clogging up the pipe during primetime. The solution needed to provide automated, rule-based synchronization of data on the NAS boxes over a wide-area network.

A network caching solution springs to mind. Chee says he would still have to manually push the data up to these boxes, and there isn’t enough intelligence in them. “We needed something that would provide an authenticated login, so that not everyone with access to the network could get to the curriculum.” Chee also looked into offerings from Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Novell Inc. (Nasdaq: NOVL) but gave up and was on the verge of writing his own software program in Linux when he discovered Acirro Inc.In a proof-of-concept program using Acirro’s Acumula storage network management software, UH is currently testing out file sharing among its rural colleges. Acirro’s software provides a distributed file system that enables UH to share, replicate, and manage files across its diverse NAS devices, regardless of where they are physically located. It also provides a single, central view of the files to the administrators and students.

Chee is ready to sign off on a purchase order for this software, once his billing department gets around to it. [Ed. note to Acirro CFO: That seems likely to happen July 1st.] (See Acirro Breaks Cover

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