speckytecky (6th July 2012)
I am facing a bit of a dilemma. I currently work in a school where the budget is very closely looked at (as it should be) and justifying any kind of large expenditure is extremely difficult.
We had a new school built four years ago with a server infrastructure which consisted of 12 servers (Dell Blade) and an EMC SAN. As we are entering the fifth year (and have no remaining maintenance agreements in place) I am getting extremely twitchy and want to start a rolling program of upgrades. This has lead me initially to a number of key questions which I will pose below:
- Why go for a SAN over a NAS? Enterprise level NAS boxes (ie. Thecus N12000) seem to have EVERYTHING you would want in a storage solution (redundant power supplies, support for SAS drives etc.) at a lower cost, with a 5 year support contract. Considering we are not running a huge data centre would this not be an acceptable compromise.
- We are looking into virtualisation very closely and are due to have a couple of the larger companies out in the near future to provide quotes on what they would think would be suitable. I have already heard figures of £60000ish being thrown around and think this seems extremely expensive to fulfil the NEEDs of our school (900 students on roll). Essentially we use our servers as file stores, nothing more. Our major demands (as with most schools) are the SIMs server and our email server. The rest is pretty much hosting files and processing logins/managing AD etc. Why would we NEED such high spec servers?
- Future-proofing - is this as important as everyone seems to think? We are currently into year 4 with our server equipment which was average at best at the time... is it still fulfilling our needs? Absolutely! My feelings are that when you have to consider that servers pretty much have to be replaced on a ~5year basis due to the rising cost (and unavailability) of support it makes absolutely no sense to plan further ahead than this and, to be honest, I believe hardware requirements for educational systems are on the decrease due to cloud based systems.
You may notice that I have used the word NEED a lot in this. When I am preparing my plan for SMT I am very keen only to go in with what we NEED to ensure the network is of a suitable level for the school, I am now in the process of working out what that is and if anyone has any feedback, arguments against or suggestions based on the above it would be very much appreciated!!!
I am currently in the process of refreshing the server and storage infrastructure at my school. I have been here for almost one academic year now. I have been patient with that they already had onsite. A bespoke Unix platform with so many open source applications to make it compatible with Windows on the desktop, etc. Total cost for a new PDC, 2 x Virtual servers (hosting 4 servers each), SAN, smaller SAN for replication, ups and kvm and a switch management/reconfiguration = £30k.
There have been and will be other costs related to bringing out rationalisation and improvements to the cabinets and cabling across the school site, i.e. new fibre links, new cabinets that allow the cabling and switches to fit inside the cabinet!
Well hang on, if that's your thoughts, why are you looking at virtualisation? Why did you buy a blade centre and not virtualise on it?
The question isn't what you need now - it's how you can reduce future costs through new tech, or give better value to the staff and students.
If you went thin client everywhere you could conceivably remove desktop replacement costs. A virtualised blade centre could have increased redundancy, reducing downtime and also having a upgrade route cheaper than new servers each time. A larger outlay on a decent SAN, etc will last longer than an equivilant low spec model - a higher performance point initally will mean it'll be much longer before you hit a performance issue.
You're 4 years in with no performance hit BECAUSE your inital spec was high level. not in spite of it.
To be honest, I feel if you're not pushing things forward then why bother at all? Do you NEED XP, etc. Windows 98 worked....
If your simply virtualising a handful of existing servers then £60K is way more than you need to be spending. A 3 Node vMware cluster will handle your requirements by the sound of it with n+1.
£60k for server side gear for virtualisation in that size school is overkill. For us, a 1200 pupil, 200 staff school, we'd be looking at £30k tops. That'd cover 3 VM hosts, a fibre channel switch and HBAs and a SAN with enough storage and speed to handle everything easily for 3 - 5 years.
If you're virtualising with high availability failover then you can get away with using lots of lower cost machines.
It doesn't matter if they fall over, thats the point of high availability.
We just bought 12x (intel DX79TO boards, i7 3820, 32GB RAM and intel SSD's) for £5k.
We use it for a citrix farm - but the same principal applies to virtualisation.
sorry, I don't think I have made myself clear on a few points;
Domino > I feel that we HAVE to do something now or in the near future as our current servers and SAN are not covered by any kind of maintenance and as time passes, so does the risk of hardware failure. The point at which I feel the risk of this failure is becoming unacceptable to us as a school is getting closer. Also, the point on a higher outlay on a SAN so it will last longer is exactly what I am getting at... it may well last longer, but without support how long would you want to risk that? As such should we not be simply looking for something which fulfills the task at the present time and the immediate (~5 year) future and comes with (for example) a 5 year warranty with the plan of replacing at the end of this period?
twin--turbo & localzuk > This was exactly my thought but I am fairly certain the two companies I have coming in will quote based on the best systems they can provide, quoting future-proofing and further capacity as the reason in which we need it, and I quite simply don't think that's the case. I think ahead of the meeting I am going to have to do some serious investigation into what our servers are using at the minute and not let them run wild on the spec.
Another option - spend all your money on redundant/faster internet and put it all on EC2
What are the spec's of the existing SAN and blades? Have you looked at the cost of buying one or two new replacement drives or looked at a rolling replacement for the drives in the existing SAN? My initial instinct is spending £60k on a whole sale replacement is way over the top, especially if your not making full use of the existing infrastructure.
SAN and Blades for a school of 900?
We are at 800 and have pretty much everything vital on 2x HP DL165 G7 (1Us) with Hyper-V running VMs on either the 4x2TB HDDs or PCI-E SSD - total spend hasn't gone over £8,500 yet.
The servers have been setup so that everything vital (Firewall/AD/File Storage/DNS/DHCP) has a duplicate in a cluster on the other server so we could loose one and the school would keep on running (ok maybe without Printing ect).
Our VDI runs on local PCI-E SSD storage as well (no SAN) and we are deploying a 4x RDS cluster similar to @CyberNerd over the summer holiday - again no SAN required because of built in fail over/clustering.
IMO a SAN isn't always the answer most of the time with a decent Hyper-V host and using built in fail over/clustering technology in 2k8R2 you can get away with an 'acceptable risk'.
In your case a pair of DL385 G7/G8s with the hard drives maxed out to give you a similar setup (WITHOUT a SAN) wouldn't go much over £15k (depending on how much data you have).
Last edited by jamesfed; 5th July 2012 at 11:14 AM.
Personally Sans are the way forward in Terms when Virtualizing. Plus with Modern day processors and ram being so cheap you can setup a 3 node cluster with failover including a SAN very easily for 25/30k.
Personally I would be looking at HP DL360's Dual 6 Core Xeons with about 100Gb ram in each host (they can take 768GB). Then either a 10GB ISCSI or 8Gb FC SAN or Switched SAS (being the cheapest i believe).
I wouldn't want to be running an entire school on something that is out of warranty.
I tend to favour the approach of canabalising existing equipment and setting up a rolling replacement program over the next few years.
One thing to add in HP will give you cash back on pretty much any server trade ins - could help you offset some of the cost of any new kit.
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