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Hardware Thread, Do schools spend more money on back-end ICT than is necessary? in Technical; You have to spend money on the things you are talking about to have a reliable, resilient network. Switches and ...
  1. #31

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    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.

  2. #32

    SYNACK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RTFM View Post
    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.
    Yeap, it is always a balance with the budget avalible but I use the building metaphore a lot regarding building a house on a solid foundation rather than a waterlogged sandpit. The core infrastructure is key to what your client gear can actually do comfortably. If you have a good network underpinning everything then things are a lot more reliable and easier to fix.

  3. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by SYNACK View Post
    Yeap, it is always a balance with the budget avalible but I use the building metaphore a lot regarding building a house on a solid foundation rather than a waterlogged sandpit. The core infrastructure is key to what your client gear can actually do comfortably. If you have a good network underpinning everything then things are a lot more reliable and easier to fix.
    Absolutely. A perfect analogy
    Last edited by RTFM; 5th July 2012 at 08:10 PM.

  4. #34

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    Quote Originally Posted by psydii View Post
    Two thoughts:
    Could you not give the individual companies that supplied the parts (SAN, Hosts, management tools etc) a call and see if you can negotiate extended warranties and support directly? If the kit is still no where near its capacity then it is quite acceptable to sweat it some more, while you soften up management to the price tag for its replacement (look - spec well initially and get 6-10 yrs out of it!)


    If that isn't a go-er or the solution running on that hardware is something you feel is holding your school back, then try giving Viglen a call. They solved this exact problem for me at the price point you expect with the configuration you are looking for.

    They did a lot of work on this to get onto the BECTA (now DfE) ICT Services Framework. You just want one of their out of the box solutions, probably with a partially managed services element on the core services e.g. SAN config, VM infrastructure and Fileserver, add others up to the point you can afford, but do most of the finer windows config yourself. Make sure that you include maintenance contracts for the various component parts they provide - often hotfixes from the vendors are the solution to irritations. ("that's fixed in version 6.0.2.23, 4.0.109.23 is really old now - can you upgrade? It will definately fix the problem you are having.")

    On the RAM overhead: each box needs enough ram to support the full set of servers if one of your two proposed hosts fails. I believe that you can over commit by making use of the Balloon driver - but I've not tried (why mess with something that is working?) My physical hosts have 48GB, so my total VM requirements is tuned to 24GB per physical host. Same size site a you.

    One of the design criteria we had was that I didn't want me or my team to be having to constantly be messing around on the servers - they just needed to go in, get configured and then work, so that we could spend our time focusing on directly supporting the users. The VM/SAN enviroment has certainly enabled this. Perhaps we could have delivered the same initial services for 10-15k less, but as the services evolved more and more time would have to be spend adding and maintaining physical hosts, piling on additional services onto initially well behaved servers and generally pushing them to past their limits and without an pre-existing strong change control ethic in the team that would have lead to down time and reduced front line support time. Now if we need a new service/VM we can either did through our handover notes and give it a go, or call down on pre-paid engineer time from Viglen to spin up a new serer. Easily worth the 10-15K in a single year alone!

    Though I must say that I am quite envious of glennda's solution, I think ours might be able to do that too with a major firmware update on the san and the latest vSphere - but I'm in no hurry to mess with that.
    Which one do you like? My first post was my last workplace and the second one (Equallogic) is a clients.

    Shudders - please don't mention viglen on the forum again!!

  5. #35

    tmcd35's Avatar
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    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?

  6. #36

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    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.

  7. 2 Thanks to dhicks:

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  8. #37

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    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks View Post
    You don't need a SAN for a school network.
    Why not?

    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)?

  9. #38

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    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.

  10. Thanks to teejay from:

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  11. #39

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    Quote Originally Posted by teejay View Post
    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.
    This is the nub of it. Redundant SANs are nice if you can afford them, but far more important is a good disaster recovery plan.

  12. #40
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    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.

  13. #41

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    Quote Originally Posted by RTFM View Post
    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?
    A SAN is for situations where you need more procesing power in proportion to your storage space. The whole idea of a SAN is that it sits at the end of a network connection of some kind, dissasociated from your processing machine. This can limit throughput and add latency - obviously the higher-end SAN you buy the better throughput you get and less latency, and even iSCSI-over-ethernet really isn't bad, but you'll still get better performance by having a RAID array directly attached to your processors. In a smaller-scale setup (probably half-a-dozen processing machines or less), a SAN just makes for another box to buy, power and maintain.

    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.
    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.

    --
    David Hicks

  14. #42
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    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.

  15. #43

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    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks View Post
    A SAN is for situations where you need more procesing power in proportion to your storage space. The whole idea of a SAN is that it sits at the end of a network connection of some kind, dissasociated from your processing machine. This can limit throughput and add latency - obviously the higher-end SAN you buy the better throughput you get and less latency, and even iSCSI-over-ethernet really isn't bad, but you'll still get better performance by having a RAID array directly attached to your processors. In a smaller-scale setup (probably half-a-dozen processing machines or less), a SAN just makes for another box to buy, power and maintain.
    If you go with a SAS SAN most of those issues of scale go away, you get faster performance than all but the fastest raid cards with stacks of drives and you get the added benefits of a decentralized storage like snapshots, multiple controllers, multipath etc. It basically means you can buy one epic storage system and tie into it from all your other machines more efficient utilization of what you have. It can also make some stuff easier, you don't need hds in your individual servers as you can just boot off a sas HBA. With some if you later need iSCSI you can just swap out the controllers in the SAN. You can easily add disk shelves for stacks more drives and this can easily be divided up or reallocated between physical hosts. In all it just makes the resources much more adaptable as you can allocate the resource pool to where it is needed. It winds me up going back to isolated storage on servers now as it is slow and limiting as its locked in and unmovable if things change without lots of messing.

  16. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrWu View Post
    SAN vs NAS : I think NAS works on SMB level and Hyper-V r2 requires storage to be locally mounted (someone correct me if Im wrong though) Hyper-V r3 might be a game changer with this. But if you are using NAS as a replicating fileserver, then I think that's fine.

    Price wise HP is still doing 50 percent cash back on SANs and cash back on 2nd processor if you buy double the RAM (up to 5 server on one invoice) shop around, its a pain but could save you money.
    You have to wonder why HP are going so cheap on their SAN kit atm... is it the competition from the likes of the EMC VNXe eating into their market or are they trying to shift old stock before bringing out something newer in the near future? Guess that's the "joy" of IT... when do you jump

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  18. #45

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    Quote Originally Posted by glennda View Post
    Which one do you like? My first post was my last workplace and the second one (Equallogic) is a clients.

    Shudders - please don't mention viglen on the forum again!!
    The Equallogic one.

    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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