University of Minnesota Selects Cisco Storage Area Network for Scalability, Reliability; New SAN Helps the University's IT Depar

March 31, 2006
New SAN Helps the University's IT Department Better Manage Nearly 300 Terabytes of Data

SAN JOSE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--March 30, 2006--Cisco (Nasdaq:CSCO) today announced that the University of Minnesota, which serves 60,000 students on five campuses, has selected Cisco MDS 9509 Multilayer directors to consolidate its widely dispersed storage resources onto a single, highly reliable, high-performance storage area network, or SAN.

"It's a typical story for university environments," said Carl Follstad, manager of Data Management Services at the university. "We had a lot of little islands of storage, perfectly reliable, but not scalable. There were also requirements for information-sharing between systems that couldn't be met because they were not connected. The next natural step was to consolidate storage onto a SAN."

Headquartered in the Twin Cities, Minnesota -- with five campuses and additional research and outreach centers throughout the state -- the University of Minnesota is the second-largest campus in the United States. The goal of the university's upgrade project was to migrate its open systems direct-attached data storage to a high-performance SAN. In the process, however, IT leadership realized they needed a more reliable, scalable, and cost-effective storage system.

Carl Follstad, who led the storage upgrade project, considered Cisco storage switches along with other vendors for the initial SAN pilot. "We had a very good working relationship and a lot of confidence already with Cisco," Follstad said. "For our first SAN effort we chose the Cisco MDS 9216 Fabric switches in a dual-fabric configuration, spanning two data centers on the campus." The team moved rapidly to place the university's key business functions on the SAN, and then began to look at using the two data center SANs for disaster recovery capabilities. Further improvements were made when they expanded the SAN to a core-to-edge design to accommodate even more applications and data.

Disaster Recovery and Innovation

Keeping the dual-fabric design, the IT team deployed two Cisco MDS 9509 Multilayer directors at the core in each data center's fabric, with the Cisco MDS 9216 switches moved to the edge. In addition, with data replicated in real time at both campus sites, each data center could function as a disaster recovery site for the other, providing much greater data security and business continuance for the university. Today's environment hosts 300 terabytes, or trillion bytes of storage, 300 ports, and 60 hosts all interconnected by Fibre Channel technology. Hosted data can include anything from student content and materials, data warehouses, and imaging applications to production and research databases.

The storage group, which acts as a service provider for all university departments, received requests to have Fibre Channel capability at individual buildings for a few departments, due to research producing large data sets. To accommodate this special need, the storage team developed an affordable solution by building core-hub architectures for individual buildings based on pairs of Cisco MDS 9100 Fabric Switches. Dark fiber connects these sites to the SAN. "Universities usually have tight budgets, so we have to be fiscally conservative, invest in the right technology, and develop smart solutions," Follstad pointed out. "The Cisco MDS 9100 switches gave us a cost effective solution for the edge connectivity we needed for individual departments."

The IT staff has also helped individual departments by taking advantage of the Cisco capability to create virtual SANs (VSANs) to provide highly secure, segmented storage for each department within the larger SAN environment. VSANs combined with Inter-VSAN Routing (IVR) allows administrators to provide each department with access to just their assigned storage, enables centralized backup, and helps to isolate fabric events, preventing any failure from affecting multiple departments.

The IT staff was also able to implement a system of tiered storage and service, which it believes delivers the most business value to the university. Key applications such as registration, email, and library systems are given highest priority and faster service. As well, modules can be swapped in and out of the various sites to upgrade storage needs, allowing the university to balance the Cisco MDS 9000 infrastructure to reflect host demand and the SAN workload. In the near future, this tiered service program will be extended to include the Cisco iSCSI capability. This rollout will provide the option to encrypt iSCSI traffic as needed for the public campus IP network, at a lower cost for departments that cannot justify the cost of using Fibre Channel.

"Cisco's SAN technology lets me offer a customer solution for every department within the university, based on each department's business requirements," Follstad said. "That frees up each department's technical staff to support education-oriented research and other activities that add value to the faculty and students."

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