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NetApp HCI keeps classes in session amid pandemic lockdown

Barry University initially deployed NetApp HCI to host its VMware farm. The hyper-converged system allowed the Miami-area school to scale its private cloud during the pandemic.

Barry University expanded its NetApp storage to adapt to the travails of COVID-19. With students unable to attend class on campus, the Miami-based liberal arts school broadened its NetApp HCI hyper-converged infrastructure to scale up a virtual learning environment.

The NetApp HCI system was installed last year as a private cloud host for Barry University's VMware server farm. That move is part of the school's effort to build out its version of NetApp Data Fabric using NetApp FAS arrays and NetApp SnapManager data protection tools.

Most Barry University students commute to its campus, which posed challenges for keeping courses on track during the pandemic. Having NetApp HCI gave the school a bit of a head start when remote classwork surged, said Justin Moses, Barry's director of data center operations.

Students and faculty log in to licensed application via the Lenovo Unified Workspace portal. When COVID-19 hit, Moses said he needed to scale compute and storage to handle the increased workload.

"We went from supporting a couple hundred people using the platform to supporting all the students and all the applications," Moses said. "We went from two remote desktop servers to spinning up nine new ones, and we had to restructure the entire farm to segment applications in a way that would be streamlined for users."

Having NetApp HCI in place aided the transition. The school added an additional NetApp HCI node with embedded Nvidia chips to the initial NetApp HCI three-node configuration. "That gave us the IOPS we needed to perform quality of service to guarantee students wouldn't experience slowdowns in online class," Moses said.

All-flash HCI

NetApp was a latecomer to hyper-convergence but has been trying to make inroads on market leaders Dell Technologies and Nutanix. Its acquisition of all-flash storage startup SolidFire in 2016 paved the way for NetApp HCI, although the vendor did not initially signal how it would use the ElementOS-managed SolidFire all-flash systems.

Justin Moses, director of data center operations, Barry UniversityJustin Moses

While NetApp HCI is a new ingredient, Barry is a longtime NetApp shop. The school first installed NetApp FAS hybrid arrays to replace an older SAN that led to a crash of its Microsoft Exchange environment. Teams eventually traced the issue to a storage controller that corrupted a key database.

Moses said he did not consider NetApp as a replacement. He started comparing storage systems of the major SAN vendors when he received a call from his boss, telling him two NetApp executives were in his office.

"I told him, 'NetApp is a NAS provider. We need a SAN.' But since they were already here, he told me to come listen to what they had to say," Moses said.

The NetApp HCI transaction almost never took place. Several years after installing NetApp filers, Moses almost switched to Dell EMC storage after being heavily wooed by Dell salespeople, he said. At the time, NetApp was struggling to bring out an all-flash array and did not have an HCI product.

"We sort of lost touch with them for three or four years and we were ready to consider Dell EMC, because we were impressed with their technologies," Moses said. That same week he received a call from his NetApp sales rep, which led to the eventual purchase of NetApp HCI.

Barry University's data is backed up by NetApp snapshots that are replicated to a colocation facility for disaster recovery. Replication includes the LUNs used for hosting virtual machines.

The schema has been tested a few times, most notably several years ago during a hurricane. Having redundant data enabled Barry University to keep critical data services operating with zero downtime, according to Moses.

"We were able do that with a portfolio of 47 managed cloud services, in combination with the NetApp storage technologies," he said.

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