Vancouver school replaces direct-attached storage with iSCSI

In the last couple of years, increased storage demands began causing major headaches at Vancouver Community College.

The 25,000-student college recently began providing every student with an e-mail account that remains active even after the student graduates, says Bryn Hughes, a network specialist

at the three-campus school.

In addition, Hughes says, “”we’re having increasing demand for retention of students’ work.””

And third, there’s the increasing use of multimedia, such as large graphics files created by the college’s marketing communications department. “”Two graphic designers can use as much disk as half a college worth of regular employees,”” Hughes observes.

“”It’s really just in the last couple of years it’s grown excessive,”” Hughes says. But the net effect is that “”we’re just looking at way more storage growth than we’re able to deal with.””

College officials realized they would no longer be able to rely solely on direct-attached storage, so at the beginning of this year, they started evaluating iSCSI, a derivative of the Small Computer Systems Interface (SCSI) protocol that works over Internet Protocol (IP) networks.

Using iSCSI, computers can communicate over a network with storage devices whether the devices themselves use SCSI or another interface, such as Serial ATA.

The college’s first iSCSI installation went live this fall, providing about 12 terabytes of capacity in four storage arrays using Serial ATA, in addition to about half a terabyte of SCSI storage on two Dell servers. To manage the new setup, the college is using IPstor storage management software from Melville, N.Y.-based FalconStor Software Inc.

Hughes says the college’s initial experience with iSCSI has involved a few headaches, mainly with getting some Linux servers working properly with the storage systems. “”On the Linux end anyway the vendor support isn’t quite up to speed yet,”” he says. He adds that the FalconStor software has worked very reliably. Over all, he says, “”in terms of expanding our existing boxes, iSCSI is definitely the way to go.””

In the future the college may consider adopting Fibre Channel technology for networked storage, Hughes says, but “”I’m not sure when that would happen.””

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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