Dan's Take

Virtualizing a Business School

The reasons this university chose DataCore software.

I always enjoy the opportunity to communicate with decision makers to learn what their organization does, problems faced, technology considered to address problems, what was finally selected and why, and advice they'd offer to others.

Recently, I had the opportunity to exchange messages with Keith Kunkle, Sr. Information Processing Consultant, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Lubar School of Business concerning their choice of a DataCore storage virtualization solution. I wanted to understand a bit more about their choice of DataCore's technology.

Please introduce yourself and your organization.
My name is Keith Kunkel and I'm a Sr. Information Processing Consultant at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Lubar School of Business. I manage the Lubar data center which consists of approximately 40 physical and virtual servers. I also manage Lubar's active directory, Oracle and SQL installations. In addition, I provide desktop support on an as needed basis.

The Lubar School of Business has been in operation for over 50 years and offers bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees. We have over 100 faculty and staff with a student population of approximately 4,200. Lubar also houses an SAP University Competence Center (UCC) which is one of only six UCCs throughout the world. The center provides hosting services and technical support to universities that participate in SAP's University Alliance.

What problem did you need to solve?
I was looking for a way to reduce our data center CAPEX and OPEX. Many of our physical servers were at the end of life or very close and our technology budget wouldn't handle replacing all of them in the same budget year. The other issue was trying to stay current with the firmware and driver updates for all of these servers.

We have several servers that are relatively new with significant internal storage capacity that I wanted to take advantage of. I also was looking for a way to maximize the utilization of our existing storage devices. I have 2 NAS devices and 2 SAN devices that were no longer being used for their original purposes but had a couple years before end of life.

Tell me more about the reduction in CAPEX and OPEX.
First, I want to reiterate that this is just for the Lubar School of Business and not the entire university. The CAPEX reduction comes from not having to purchase as many physical servers to support Lubar's mission.

As an example, our average physical server costs $7,000 - $9,000 whereas the last server that I purchased as a part of this project cost approximately $16,000 - $17,000. That server will handle 3 – 7 virtual servers depending on the resource requirements of each virtual server. If I take an average of 5 virtual servers that would have each required a physical box at an average cost of $8,000, I'm saving $23,000 in hardware costs.

There also is the cost of the operating systems. I can buy 1 copy of the current Windows Server Data Center version and install as many virtual servers as the host server resources will allow whereas each physical server requires its own license. I haven't mentioned the cost of the SAN and NAS storage because those costs have already been absorbed by their original project.

The OPEX savings are in the utility costs because I have fewer servers that need cooling and electricity. Also, the fewer physical servers I have to maintain, the less time I have to spend updating the drivers and firmware so I have more time that can be spent on other priorities.

What products did you consider before making a selection?
I had looked at Atlantis, Maxta, SIOS, and StarWind.

Tell me more about the testing you conducted during your selection process.
I didn't test any of the products to include DataCore's SANsymphony. The main reason is that most of the products that I evaluated wouldn't support the configuration that I wanted to test. I'm using Microsoft's Hyper-V as the hypervisor and a number of the products didn't support that. One of the products only supported internal storage so there wasn't any point in pursuing that option any further.

Several pieces of hardware that are being used for this project weren't available at the time that I made the purchase, which is why I didn't test DataCore's product. There were a number of physical servers that needed to be retired due to the age of their operating systems and the hardware was used as an intermediate solution until I could get the virtual servers configured.

Why did you select this product?
DataCore was the only product that had the features I was looking for. I'm using Hyper-V for our hypervisor and several of the products that I reviewed didn't support it at that time. The remainder had other limiting factors such as working with internal storage only.

Other vendors sold their products as a package so you got hardware with the management software. I have a primary hardware vendor and while some of the vendors would use the same hardware vendor, I didn't need new hardware for this project. In addition, many of the configurations incorporated significantly more storage capacity than I needed. DataCore's licensing process allowed me to tailor the software license to match my storage needs.

What were the features that DataCore had that the other products didn't?
DataCore allows me to use internal and external storage. This feature was one of the primary selling points. As I mentioned earlier, the servers for this project have significant internal storage (~ 1 TB per server) and I have a pair of SANs and a pair of NASs that have a combined storage capacity of over 12 TB for a total of over 16 TB of storage. This amount is more than adequate for current and future storage requirements based on current growth statistics.

SANsymphony is hardware agnostic and not bundled into package. I can use my existing servers instead of having to purchase additional hardware in order to take advantage of the hyper convergence software.

I can fine tune compute and storage resources to meet our data center needs. At the time of my evaluations, many of the vendors had preconfigured solutions in regards to compute and storage resources.

What tangible benefit have you received through the use of this product?
I am able to maximize the efficiency of my existing storage. DataCore allows me to incorporate my existing servers' internal storage with the external NAS and SAN storage into a combined storage pool. The software manages the pool so I don't have to be concerned with how much storage is available on a specific device.

What advice would you offer others who are facing similar circumstances?
I would highly recommend DataCore as a solution. The packages offered by other vendors have an advantage of one vendor for hardware and software but based on my research, there's a premium that you will pay. Even if I had to purchase new hardware, I feel that I am further ahead because I'm able to tailor the amount of compute and storage resources I need.

Dan's Take: Flexibility Is the Key
I've had the opportunity to speak with a number of other DataCore customers and have heard very similar stories from all of them.

They all tell me that they were trying to support complex virtualized computing environments and wanted to deploy a virtualized or software defined storage environment in support of that virtualized computing environment. I'm often told that DataCore's technology simplified the environment and made it far easier to manage, more reliable and even more flexible.

This story, like the others, underscores my belief that virtual processing solutions should be part of a entire virtualized environment in order to allow the organization the most flexibility. The ideal environment should include access, application, processing, storage and networking virtualization and the management and security tools that support them.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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