Following the release of the FELTAG report in 2014, further education institutes across the country have been made aware of areas and obstacles that are preventing them from using technology to its maximum potential.
With the help of our partners, NCE are able to quickly realise these findings and assist in over coming any IT obstacles that are impeding progress towards better learning, teaching and assessment using digital technology and therefore helping stay ahead of the FELTAG recommendations.
Kirklees College gains flexibility and ‘Peace of Mind’ using the DataCore Software-defined Storage platform SANsymphony™-V10 solution
Fully optimised Auto-Tiering, Disaster Recovery & High Availability infrastructure supports both student and critical applications, positions Kirklees College at the forefront of FELTAG recommendations.
Kirklees College in Huddersfield is one of the largest further education colleges in the UK, offering its 20,000 full and part time students one of the largest nationwide selection of education and vocational courses from its new purpose built campus in the Heart of Yorkshire.
From there, Jonathan Wilkinson (Head of IT) and Simon Powell (Senior Storage Engineer) have the task of maintaining the Kirklees College IT Services with emphasis on providing a first rate enabled flexible student infrastructure, alongside ongoing delivery of the College’s core business systems (Finance & Accounts; HR; Email; Microsoft SharePoint). The College is at the forefront of providing a modern blended learning delivery environment closely linked to the findings of the 2014 FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) report recommendations which details that all of the UK’s 200 Further Education colleges need to quickly remove any IT obstacles that may impede the progress of the provision of combined self-directed study and traditional college based course delivery.
The Challenge: Remove any IT obstacles in a rapidly transitioning infrastructure
Part of Kirklees College success in being at the forefront of this dual delivery lies with the flexible, always-on and ready to expand, software based IT infrastructure delivered through a fully functioning Storage Area Network (SAN). The decision to move toward Software- driven Storage actually occurred 8 years ago well ahead of the mainstream rush, to combat incidents of outages of their virtual servers through the deployment of the DataCore software. Then as the College expanded and joined forces with neighbouring Dewsbury College, the DataCore storage virtualisation platform continued to comfortably provide the merged college with scalability and a robust platform for expansion and resilience.
The move to a new campus in 2013 provided not only a shiny modern data centre featuring the latest advances in data centre innovations, but also allowed for a refresh of the storage infrastructure under the guidance of the College’s trusted storage partner, NCE. As a DataCore Gold Partner, and with a DataCore Master Certified Engineer in the Professional Services Team, NCE recommended an upgrade of the original SAN infrastructure to new storage hardware from the Nexsan by Imation® storage family together with the upgrade to DataCore’s SANsymphony™-V10 enhanced software-defined software platform for full future proofing and latest feature sets. Jonathan comments:
“Essentially, we were looking to build upon what had already been achieved using DataCore as a platform. The pace of change facing education is nothing short of a revolution in the way we facilitate our students. What needs to underpin this change is a watertight, expandable, system that allows us to grow capacity as needed and keep applications highly performant on a continuous basis. SANsymphony-V delivers the high-end storage services we need today and provides the flexibility for further growth in the future.”
The Solution: SANsymphony-V10 on campus and Disaster Recovery site
The resultant on-site dual mirrored DataCore SANsymphony-V10 nodes were installed on Dell PowerEdge R710 servers in the data centre, with a third synchronous node housed off-site, approximately 10km away in the Dewsbury campus for Disaster Recovery purposes. Now, fully armed with the ability to perform additional operations such as Random Write Acceleration to speed transactional processing and DR snapshots that ensure replication of data on a real time basis, the team could relax in the knowledge that they are flexibly enabled for many years to come. Simon comments:-
“There are some neat features in the upgraded DataCore solution that we have noted. We now use Random Write acceleration to reduce the storage overhead as it produces faster storage-friendly sequential writes at our busy data mining times. Auto Tiering now also automates and allocates the data seamlessly and even though we hope that we will never need a full Disaster Recovery scenario, we are confident that we are now well placed to so.”
The Benefits: transparent High Availability and Performance for underlying Nexsan by Imation storage hardware
Indeed, the College now fully utilise DataCore’s Auto Tiering feature to ensure the most appropriate and efficient element of the Nexsan by Imation storage is served to each application. For example, files from FileShare are allocated to lower performance SATAbeasts; whilst the college’s critical accounting data interrogated from the SQL Server database is auto tiered and promoted to a higher performing storage tier housed in the Nexsan by Imation E60 architecture for superfast transactional processing across the College. Effective and automated allocation of data to the most appropriate store continues to lower the cost per TB at the College.
Maintenance is also now more effectively orchestrated. Given that students have campus access year round and until 10:00pm each night, planned downtime for maintenance, to introduce new firmware, or to provision new virtual machines is no longer required as the College now simply takes down one side of the mirror at leisure, apply the update and then resumes full dual node service.
Flexibility of the solution is a key attribute to the College. DataCore opens up choices through its full agnostic approach to hardware provision, taking stranded storage capacity into free space and has allowed the team a more bullish approach to selecting the most appropriate vendor without fear of future lock in when the hardware warranty expires. Flexibility is also paramount in considering the way that Further Education caters for students’ learning preferences under FELTAG recommendations. Kirklees and all FE colleges are yet to be fully informed of the exact government requirements for delivery and funding, but backed by a true software defined storage approach from DataCore, they remain fully assured that they can change storage on the fly, simply by changing the LUNS required.
“It is true that lots of solutions claim to offer resilience, but there are few solutions on the market that could offer us the total peace of mind that DataCore offers, and has done so for many years. Once installed, SANsymphony-V is a transparent software layer that you can fine tune as you go along without fear of failure, downtime or a dramatic overhaul to the infrastructure or College budget. We wouldn’t face the future without it.”
Jonathan Wilkinson, Head of IT, Kirklees College
You can download the full FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) report here.
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