University of Oxford

Its genetics center buys into virtualization to alleviate high storage costs

July 18, 2002

3 Min Read
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The Medical Sciences Division at the University of Oxford is beginning to see the benefit of installing virtualization software -- particularly useful, it turns out, when you are trying to store thousands of human genes.

The clinical school at Oxford is home to the Center of Human Genetics and has played an important role in helping to identify all the approximately 30,000 genes in human DNA and determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA.

"These experiments in gene research take a huge amount of data so our storage requirements are greater than other departments at the university," says Tim Shaw, deputy director for systems and networking at the Clinical School. To be precise, he says that's 2.5 terabytes in total and doubling every two years.

The Clinical School includes 15 research departments representing the various branches of medicine plus an additional 300 postgraduate medical students for a total of 4,000 students and staff. Supporting all these students are two full time systems staff and five tech support personnel. "That's not many," says Shaw.

Nevertheless, until recently the department was coping fine with the growth of its storage, but things started to go amiss when it needed to ramp up fast for a new project."Our SAN-in-a-box from XIOtech Corp. worked well and the price was reasonable, but we hadn't anticipated the price of disks, which as our needs grew proved cost-prohibitive," says Dr. Nigel Rudgewick-Brown, director of the Clinical School's Information Management Services Unit. "Our IT budget is usually adequate but to avoid any possible lock-in effect, we looked somewhere else."

The university employed U.K. reseller TriSys to find the least expensive solution to its problem. TriSys came up with a bundle that included a Brocade Communications Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: BRCD) 1-Gbit/s 8-port Fibre Channel switch, a 12-disk RAID array from Sagitta, and DataCore Software Corp.'s SANsymphony software. The cost of sliding in new XIOtech disks turned out to be the same as buying this complete package from TriSys, according to Rudgewick-Brown.

They also looked at offerings from EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC),through its partnership with Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) and Fujitsu Ltd. (KLS: FUJI.KL), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM). Dell used to be a good solution for the education market, but since it's signed up with EMC it's got more expensive,” says Shaw. He was also put off by EMC’s management software. “We chose the most agnostic software we could find that wouldn’t tie us into a particular vendor's hardware,” Shaw says.

“Using DataCore’s storage domain server and SANsymphony software we can connect any low-cost IDE RAID arrays and attach them to any server.”

The clinical school chose DataCore over its rival FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC) because the latter did not support Novell Netware at the time, Rudgewick-Brown says. As well as 25 Netware servers, the department also has three Windows 2000 servers and three Linux servers.

Interestingly, both DataCore and FalconStor offer in-band virtualization products, which industry analysts say do not scale as well as the alternative out-of-band offerings (see BHF-Bank

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