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New servers boost storage

ENG leads move to improved data backup

Carlos Moreira, director of technology and systems at ENG

If you’ve ever been frustrated by deleting a file only to discover you need it after all, running out of storage space, or hitting time-consuming roadblocks while transferring files from Mac to Linux to Windows, the IT team at the College of Engineering has the answer.

In 2005, the college’s specialists decided it was time to change its existing server system. About 85 percent of those on the system were using more than one protocol (Linux, Windows, or Mac), which often forced them to duplicate files to be able to access data from a variety of facilities.

“Users were duplicating data across disparate systems, and we didn’t have control or knowledge over where the data was going,” says Carlos Moreira, director of technology and systems at ENG. “Not only did the duplication increase our storage needs, it also led to data inconsistencies, and the IT team was often called on to pull backups manually from tape. In some cases, that meant inconvenience and possible downtime for the users.”

Built by NetApp, the new system has a common platform that centralizes storage and makes communication between different protocols (Linux to Windows for example) possible over a single desktop. Eliminating piecemeal solutions, the NetApp system offers “something easier to manage,” says Moreira, “and resilient enough to accommodate our demanding environment.”

Instead of backing up once a week as the old system did, the new system backs up at least once an hour, so users can be confident that all their data is securely saved. And it is easy to add more storage space for individuals without having to reconfigure any of the existing platforms.

The new system will also offer students a powerful new tool for their studies. “A freshman who takes Intro to Electric Circuit Theory can come back as a senior to the same files, which will remain on the same desktop in each lab they take,” says Aaron Caine, senior technology and systems manager in the Office of the Provost. “All the files depend on the same backend storage.”

It is also much easier to manage. “Now it takes us less than an hour a week to consider storage,” Caine says. “It’s all automatic, whereas before it took up an undefined and volatile amount of time. Now it can be properly managed and budgeted.”

The School of Law, the College of Arts and Sciences, and Sargent College have adopted NetApp as well, impressed by the ease and flexibility of offering greater storage space.

“If I need to expand storage, I just plug in new hard drives instead of buying a new system or revamping the existing one,” says Wil Khouri, director of computing services at LAW. “With NetApp it’s just a matter of buying the hard drive. It means a major reduction in downtime.”

NetApp also reduces the possibility of virus attacks. “The system is not specific to any one platform, so it’s not susceptible to Mac and Windows viruses,” says Brian Anderson, manager of computer services at CAS. “And from the user perspective, it’s a seamless transition.”