At first glance, Oakland University (OU) looks like a relaxed midwestern university with rolling lawns and students lounging under spreading oaks. And while that is indeed part of the university’s charm, a closer look reveals a campus culture that is anything but sleepy. Serving more than 20,500 students, Oakland University in recent years has added a medical school and is home to several notable research centers, including the Center for Biomedical Research, the Center for Robotics and Advanced Automation, and the Eye Research Institute.
All this growth combined with increasing demands on IT is prompting continued innovation on campus, as medical schools need 24/7 services and students and faculty want more powerful computing resources to aid learning. Whether it’s teams of students looking to collaborate, scientists doing research, or live streaming performances from the university’s popular theater program, everyone needs the access and tools to stay connected.
Mariusz Nowak, Director of Infrastructure Services at OU, keeps it all running. His answer to rapid growth with the cost constraints of a publicly funded university? Virtualization: more specifically, a modernized data center relying on VMware vSAN. In addition to vSAN and vSphere, OU will be moving forward with vRealize Operations for detailed analytics reporting, and will add NSX and vRNI to the environment for enhanced automation and security of the entire network.
Benefits of vSAN
"With vSAN, we don’t have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in storage hardware every few years. It’s modular and we can make it as simple or complex as needed to keep up with our changing demands,” says Mariusz. With about 400 VMs running on vSphere, by this fall, almost all of them will be running on vSAN in the near future.
The planned 8-node deployment of vSAN will massively increase available storage for the fast-growing university, improving performance, uptime, and failover response. In the new environment, each node has two processors and each processor has 20 cores, compared to the 10 that OU currently has. In addition, each node holds 1.5 terabytes of RAM, compared to the 50 or 60 terabytes of raw disk storage OU now has. In the end, the new setup will provide a total of 256 terabytes allocated towards the VM workload.
“We're gaining a huge advantage from this vSAN deployment because we now have enough resources to handle shifting workloads from one datacenter to another,” explains Mariusz. “Because of this, we can now do maintenance almost invisibly, without downtime. Combine these advantages with built-in encryption and we can more easily meet compliance standards for our next audit, as well as our SLAs.”
On the management side, moving application servers to a centralized software interface in vSAN addresses several resource administration challenges. Running servers on vSAN and managing them centrally allows Mariusz’s small team to tackle monitoring, troubleshooting, and capacity management without the need for outside hardware and security expertise.
Enhanced vSAN features like encryption and Stretched Cluster add a level of reliability and control to OU’s everyday processes. For instance, one vSAN cluster can be deployed across multiple data centers, with the ability to mitigate interruptions to help ensure data is never lost. “As OU continues to virtualize, we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket. With two data centers, the second data center will also serve DR purposes, and vSAN in the new data center gives us new opportunities to splitting the workload for functions like the power generator and the HVAC system. Given the variety of users we serve across campus, we need to avoid downtime,” says Mariusz. “Stretched Cluster capabilities help us do exactly that.”
Going beyond current administration capabilities in vSAN, the future vision includes implementing a vRealize site as a logging center for all virtual environments from top to bottom. Ultimately, campus applications that still depend on department IT resources and staff can move to vSAN, so Mariusz’s team can use centralized analytics to monitor the entire infrastructure. That means IT doesn’t depend on department budgeting for success, and future planning is based on campus-wide visibility into technology resources.
“As the back-end team, we like that VMware is a one-stop solution,” says Mariusz. “We can make one call to VMware for support and avoid dealing with multiple vendors to get help with networking, storage, security, and encryption. But most importantly, our end users only see improved performance. All they care about is that their applications are faster, reliable, and always available.”