Colchester Institute is a large provider of further and higher education courses, with 1,000 staff and 8,000 students, based in the towns of Colchester and Braintree.
Their VMware virtual infrastructure consisting of Dell PowerEdge servers and EMC VNX storage was ageing and needed to be refreshed, therefore the Institute was looking at a considerable investment so they needed to find a reliable partner who was experienced in academia and could design a replacement solution that offered excellent performance, reliability, features, ease of use and value for money.
Like many organisations they concluded that all-flash storage had reached a price point whereby it was the right choice for the primary site, but equally importantly a hybrid flash array was the best option for the DR site – this immediately ruled out a number of vendors who only had all-flash solutions.
The previous storage arrays had proved to be reliable, but they were beginning to look somewhat dated so the new platform needed to provide more up to date capabilities including:
- Fully unified protocol support (iSCSI, NFS and SMB) for maximum flexibility
- Compression and de-duplication to reduce the physical storage required
- High performance double drive failure protection
- Tight cloud integration including tiering and backup/replication
- Regular software updates to provide new features and usability improvements
- Cloud based performance, capacity and best practice monitoring
VMware vSphere used Fibre Channel to connect to the VNX so the new platform needed to support iSCSI or NFS over 10GbE to reduce costs. Improving data protection was another key requirement and therefore integrating the new platform with Veeam was going to be essential.
For the servers great VMware performance and reliability were required and for the top-of-rack switches the flexibility to add a mixture of SFP+ and 10GBASE-T ports was key.
The chosen solution consisted of the following:
NetApp All-Flash FAS (AFF) for production and FAS for disaster recovery/off-site backup were chosen because they comfortably met all of the requirements at the right price.
Using snapshots for backups provides an RPO of just 5 minutes with near instant restores, combining replication for backup and DR reduces network traffic and DR RPO down from 24 hours to 1 hour and enables the DR site to be actively used rather than just being on standby.
The ability to provision vSphere storage using NFS has proved far simpler and more efficient than managing a large number of LUNs, the on-premises and cloud based management and monitoring tools have made the solution very easy to support and the ability to tier and replicate/backup data to all major clouds (i.e. AWS, Azure and GCP) will provide maximum flexibility and potential cost savings in the future.
Fujitsu PRIMERGY was chosen as it’s a performance leader in the all important VMware VMmark benchmarks and a consistent reliability leader, in addition Fujitsu have been close partners with NetApp for over 20 years and even provide support services for them in EMEA.
Using a single 16 core CPU in each server reduces software license costs (i.e. for VMware, Microsoft and Veeam) and by accurately sizing the solution and taking advantage of CPU performance gains over the last 5 years the socket count has been reduced by two thirds.
Fujitsu Infrastructure Manager (ISM), a modern centralised infrastructure management tool, enables the PRIMERGY servers and NetApp storage to be monitored from a single console.
- Top-of-Rack switches
NETGEAR M4300-96X switches were chosen as they provide the flexibility to scale up to 96 ports in any combination of SFP+ or 10GBASE-T and by utilising 10GBASE-T ports, in and between racks, with low cost RJ45 cables the cost per port is significantly reduced.
- Data Protection
Veeam Backup and Replication was chosen as it’s an industry leader when it comes to simplicity and performance, and most importantly it has state-of-the-art NetApp FAS storage array integration. It manages the creation of local and remote snapshots and Veeam Explorer is used to restore individual objects just as you would do from a conventional Veeam backup.
Utilising a high performance NetApp snapshot as the source for a Veeam backup has improved performance as it minimises the use of inefficient vSphere snapshots.
How did Colchester Institute find it working with SNS?
The key to selecting a partner is that they must add value prior to a purchase by fully understanding the solutions they are proposing and allowing us to explore options, once we have a pretty good idea of what we want they must also make sure the solution is appropriately sized.
Over the last few years we have attended numerous SNS events, which without a doubt are amongst the best events within the industry, to gain confidence in their abilities – they provided considerable educational value and were also great fun to attend.
Prior to the purchase SNS delivered everything we expect from a first-rate partner, they worked hard to simplify the solution and where possible reduce on-going costs including VMware licenses and networking.
To say that our deployment engineer knew his stuff and instilled us with confidence was an understatement – the comprehensive planning, testing, documentation and training were of the highest standard, but most importantly our team was left with a solution that they felt comfortable with as they had been fully empowered to provide the necessary on-going support.
Any questions or support issues were also handled expertly, once again proving that we had chosen a great partner that we would not hesitate to recommend to other organisations.
What about possible future enhancements?
Veeam Availability Orchestrator v3 now supports array-based replication (exclusive to NetApp ONTAP based systems) which will enable the Institute to deploy a VMware vSphere DR planning and compliance solution that automates fail-over, fail-back, testing and documentation – all at a much lower price point than was previously possible with products such as VMware Site Recovery Manager.
In addition NetApp E-Series storage is being considered as a backup target for Veeam and video surveillance data as it provides high throughput and capacity scaling SAN storage that is optimal for these workloads due to its affordability, simplicity and availability.