As one of the top public research universities in the U.S., the University of Minnesota relies on its IT department to provide computing power and ingenuity to drive its mission. VMware vSAN is an integral part of several key IT projects.

The first hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) project for the university was to support the Northern Lights GigaPoP, a gigabit-speed point of presence (PoP) that connects education institutions through Internet2. The IT team designed and built a vSAN system so the GigaPoP team could focus on their network management task and run the workloads to support that service. The GigaPoP service runs on six vSAN nodes, with about 32 terabytes of storage.

HCI Keeps the Wi-Fi On and Powers Big Data Analytics

With the GigaPoP project under their belts, the IT team turned to maybe the most important part of campus life: supporting the Wi-Fi network. Across all five University of Minnesota campuses, there are more than 10,000 wireless access points in 230 buildings. All the authentication and management for that network flows through a 12-node all-flash vSAN cluster. The environment is designed to be tolerant of hosts and building failures because it’s spread across three separate physical buildings for redundancy. This network has a sustained workload average of between 350 and 500 megabytes per second –from the vSAN perspective that’s 18 to 25 terabytes of data. Wi-Fi is a critical service around all the campuses, so it requires a reliable platform.

HCI + VDI = Apps Anywhere, Any Time

At the University of Minnesota Duluth, vSAN and VMware Horizon power a service called Apps to Go. This service provides anytime, anywhere access to more than 300 university apps through a single portal.

“With this service, we’re able to provide apps to more people than ever,” said systems administrator Justin Keppers. “You can get the full desktop environment on your phone, from home, or sitting in a computer lab.”

The Duluth campus also integrates NVIDIA GPUs into the Horizon environment for workstation-grade performance on any device. Students can run compute-intensive apps such as Mathematica and ANSYS from school, home or even on their phones, freeing them from on-campus labs and making it easier to learn on their own schedule. The Duluth campus uses 10 vSAN nodes for VDI and three for disaster recovery, running on Dell R740 PowerEdge rack servers.

Underpinning the infrastructure for these projects and more at the Duluth campus is VMware vSphere 6.5. vSphere helps the university run, manage, connect and secure applications in a common operating environment.

Scalable and Flexible for the Future

For the University of Minnesota, HCI is the right choice across a variety of use cases because it’s fast and easy to scale. The building block architecture of vSAN gives the school the flexibility to scale up on raw storage or scale out with memory, compute and storage. HCI makes it simple to deploy new infrastructure where there was no central block SAN available, or for high I/O requirements where processing volatility should be kept separate.

Said Keppers, “The biggest win for us is consistent performance. It’s not necessarily the raw speed, but I care that it’s reliably the same speed, because we’re not pulling data from a deeper, slower tier.”