You have to spend money on the things you are talking about to have a reliable, resilient network. Switches and server room are the things people don't see but if you skimp on them and problems arise they certainly notice due to the fact things stop working.
We went from 12 old physical servers to 3 HP DL360 G7 hosts and a netapp 2040 San to virtualise everything. The resiliency and backup / restore solution we now have is brilliant. We also purchased a second 2040 for backup, fall over etc.
It cost us plenty of money and obviously needed some justification but at the end of the day, if there are problems we are now in a much better position to solve them quickly and with minimal impact.
Over the past three and half years I've spent around £20k putting in a v. High end bespoke NAS and 3 good virtual host servers. Part of me would like to have the OPs problem, and I'd sure love to have a redundant SAN but honestly I don't think I could justify it. Is there any thing we do that truely requires that level of redundancy? Or isn't really just an over priced luxury? I can't help thinking there are better uses a school could put £30k to that would have more of an impact on teaching and learning - our core business after all. Hell we'd have to sack a teacher to get that kind of money to spend (maybe not such a bad idea).
But still, different schools, different budgets, different priorities.
My other concern is, ok you spend £30k now for this shiny new kit but, what about when it needs replacing. Can you be sure another £30k will be available in 5years time?
You don't need a SAN for a school network, local storage on the virtual machine host will be fine. A Dell PowerEdge 510 with 64GB of RAM, dual processors and 8 SAS harddrives giving you at least 1TB of RAIDed storage for VM images is around £5,000, and that should cover the basic functions for most school networks (DC, email, printer server, MIS, etc). It's probably overkill in most cases - local SAS drives on a hardware RAID card are going to be the highest throughput, lowest latency disk solution short of a very expensive SSD array or SAN.
You'll need (at least) another server for user file storage, and of course you'll need another (larger) server to back that file server up (with room for previous version snapshots), but £5,000 for the two should get you a couple of servers that can take a decent number of 2TB / 3TB SATA drives. Ideally, that backup server will be in a separate location to your primary server, and you'd also have a second VM host server for failover. Importantly, your backup VM host doesn't need the same kind of specification as your primary server - single processor, SATA drives, enough RAM to run a minimal system while you repair the primary server. Hopefully a sudden, unexpected, catastrophic failure of your primary server happens very rarely, and a half hour or so's delay while you boot up VM images on the secondary server is generally quite acceptable in most school situations.
Last edited by dhicks; 5th July 2012 at 10:30 PM.
If the money is available to buy one, everything else which would have an impact on the network etc has been done (new pc's, monitors, switches, wireless etc) why not get a SAN? Or in our case 2.
A school has, in a lot of cases, a bigger user base than a medium and large business and has critical data which needs to be securely maintained, backed up etc. If anything the work being done on a school network is more taxing on the infrastructure than in businesses when you think about all the video and photo editing, data being pushed around etc.
Surely it makes sense to have the best you can afford (but still get value for money)?
We've had 3 instances where the has hit the fan with our server infrastructure in the last year, first we had an arson attack on the classroom next to the server room, luckily the fire brigade turned up in the nick of time and we just had a little bit of smoke damage. Next we found our 'highly available' virtualisation solution (3 headers, 2 switches for redundancy and 2 SANS) went completely pear shaped due to both SANS having a problem at the same time which took 3 days to get a partial network up and a week to get the full network up. This was followed by a hardware failure on out NAS storage which took 3 days to get fixed by the manufacturer. Stressed is an understatement recently!
After discussion with SLT and governors we're now specifying a solution which has redundancy across into another building and also an offsite DR into another school. This is costing an eye watering amount of money but it is required to meet the SLT/Governors requirements for availability.
My advise now would be to do a DR plan covering the main possible disaster such as loss of server room, major hardware failure, loss of school site. It then needs a decision from SLT as to the timescales they require for each service to be up and running and then a solution specified and costed around that. It's then up to them if they want to spend the money to fulfill those requirements, if they don't want to spend that, then they have to accept compromises.
tmcd35 (6th July 2012)
I think a lot of Schools don't spend enough on the infrastructural as heads only seem to care about the bling they can see!! If you look at the total staff salary pot to amount spent on I bet is a lot lower then in the corporate world. Also schools seem bad and rolling plans for renewal.
Last edited by nicholab; 6th July 2012 at 09:02 AM.
It rather depends on what kind of scale you're operating, and what kind of budget is available over what period of time. If you're relying on a third party to provide the hardware then you'll probably get a SAN as that tends to be what people know how to specify and support, and £50,000 over, say, three years really isn't that much for IT infrastructure for what, as you point out, is generally quite a sizeable organisation. Schools still tend to be under-provided for actual storage volume available - the amount of images and video the average school can produce in a year is growing and can quite overwealm some school's storage facilities.A school has, in a lot of cases, a bigger user base than a medium and large business and has critical data which needs to be securely maintained, backed up etc. If anything the work being done on a school network is more taxing on the infrastructure than in businesses when you think about all the video and photo editing, data being pushed around etc.
When 'selling' to SLT, it's always good to mention savings. So, for instance, we were running 12 servers, and by the time our current transition is completed we'll have a SAN and 2 physical servers. If you were on a 5 year cycle of replacement, then you have an immediate purchase and re-purchase saving. But the big 'sell' at the moment is energey...and we'll reduce 24 PSUs down to 6, which is an energy saving on hardware, not to mention potential savings on cooling. No matter what you plump for, always introduce savings and never forget energy costs.
MrWu (6th July 2012)
Meh, if I can put up with seeing RM advertising everywhere on here, then you'll have to put up with me mentioning Viglen from time to time. Viglen Storage Group are pretty awesome and the solution works very well. We recently had a third party in to create a new VM for a bespoke app and they commented that our set up was textbook, making their job easy. You get what you ask for (just don't ask for too much - play your suppliers to their strengths and everybody is happy).
On those who quite rightly say that you can run a large secondary on DAS (I have, it was good). Having a well specified, designed and supported SAN based VM infrastructure reduces my teams' time spent on infrastructure management, increasing time available to support front line staff. The real magic is in the backups though. VEEAM takes (nearly) all the hassle out of it - it also provides a ready made infrastructure for testing changes before making them to the live servers. It makes 'best practice' change control management not only possible - but easy, again delivering benefit directly to the end users (quicker changes, less downtime, improved skill and discipline in the back end team).
Sometimes spending cash is not and expense but an investment.
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