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Toronto District Upgrades EMC Storage, Cuts Capacity Needs by Third

The Toronto District School Board, the fourth largest district in North America and the largest one in Canada, has gone public with details about its implementation of a massive virtual storage infrastructure that uses technology from EMC and Microsoft. The new setup uses Microsoft Hyper-V Server for server virtualization, EMC VNX unified storage, and EMC Data Domain deduplication storage systems for backup and recovery.

The upgrade has resulted in a reduction in capacity requirements of 32 percent and a decrease in data center energy expenses by 22 percent. Likewise, data backup storage requirements have been decreased by more than 90 percent. Return on investment for the project is expected in three and a half years.

The storage refresh was intended to mitigate the need for adding additional data center space as the district grew, while also lowering the cost per terabyte and increasing storage density. The district, which has 600 schools, 250,000 students, and 40,000 staff members, was running legacy EMC gear that had inefficient usage and backup windows that crept into business hours.

The district transformed its storage infrastructure through a combination of storage consolidation, server virtualization, and what EMC terms a "FLASH 1st strategy." The latter is an architectural approach for optimizing storage arrays. This involves exploiting flash drives, cache, and flexible tiering in order to move data dynamically in "virtual pools" among storage media based on performance needs, workload, and other criteria.

According to research by IDC and EMC, "when data is older than 90 days, the probability of anyone ever requesting that data falls to 10 percent. After 180 days, that probability falls to 1 percent, and when this data is a year old, there is only 0.01 percent probability that anyone would request it." EMC's FAST Suite, which works with its VNX storage platform, can shift data across tiers as the data begins to "decay," taking advantage of lower-cost storage as the data lifecycle wends down and servicing the newest or most important data through the highest performance storage.

With the help of EMC's Residency Services, which placed company staff on-site through the implementation, the Toronto district built a storage infrastructure that uses flash and serial attached SCSI (SAS), and near-line SAS (or SATA) drives. The organization uses Unisphere, an application for managing and monitoring multiple storage resources through a single interface.

In addition, the district replaced its tape backup environment with EMC's deduplication storage systems, which sped up backup times and decreased backup storage requirements. Full weekly backups that previously took 65 hours can now be completed in less than 48 hours and restore is much faster too, according to the district.

"EMC's VNX unified storage has the best performance and efficiency at a very cost-effective price," said Peter Singh, senior manager of IT Operations. "It integrates with Microsoft Hyper-V, which is crucial to our cloud strategy, and with its higher performance, automated storage tiering, and thin provisioning, VNX was a no-brainer."

Added System Architect Zain Bhamjee, "Tasks that once took five clicks now get done in one with Unisphere. We're supporting our 325-terabyte storage environment with less than one and a half FTEs. Most shops would need three to five FTEs to manage an infrastructure our size."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.