Case Study: Traffic Managers, Virtualized Storage Cut Costs in Private Cloud
Back in 2007, I faced a situation that’s all too common for organizations, whether they be public or private.
I was dealing with a highly decentralized, geographically dispersed enterprise that needed to manage explosive storage growth on a tight budget. I and my team needed to improve disaster recovery, provide new application services to demanding internal customers and deliver a quick return on investment.
To meet these challenges I (then a system administrator with the Bloomington, Ill. Public schools) and others around the state created a private cloud in the form of a non-profit cooperative called IlliniCloud. IlliniCloud uses both existing infrastructure and new investments in traffic managers to assure uptime, as well as virtualized storage to cut costs. As a result, it is providing more reliable IT services to 869 Illinois school districts while reducing their costs for some services by as much as 95 percent.
IlliniCloud has also allowed the reclamation of more than 70 percent of Tier 1 Fibre Channel storage, cut the backup window by 80 percent and enabled policy-based management of unstructured data.
Before the creation of IlliniCloud, the state’s school systems were bracing for what, in 2007, looked to be a $15 billion state budget deficit, a shortfall that has recently fallen to around $11 billion. Many districts’ IT budgets were too limited to fund IT professionals, and some could scarcely provide basic applications, much less advanced online collaboration and multimedia capabilities.
Only five percent of districts had a disaster recovery plan in place, and many maintained recovery facilities or backup data within 100 miles of their main data centers, too close for effective protection. Small districts lacked the purchasing power to negotiate competitive prices with vendors, and often duplicated purchases or development efforts of other districts, which reduced efficiency and increased costs. Faced with regulatory requirements to collect and preserve data such as students’ performance on standardized tests, storage demands for some districts were rising as much as 300 percent per year.
We responded by creating what in private industry would be called a “shared services” private cloud that provides applications such as school administration, facilities management, student performance tracking, multimedia, and library management for school districts as well as infrastructure services such as backup.
IlliniCloud began by deploying 30 new VMware virtual servers running on HP/Cisco converged computing platforms in three data centers already owned by districts, using the existing Illinois Century Network as a network backbone. Along with volume discounts, we took advantage of educational discounts and funding such as the federal E-rate program.
Early on, we saw the need to provide intelligent traffic management and ensure redundancy if a network component failed or had to be taken offline for maintenance or patching. The cooperative also needed a standards-based, vendor-neutral data management solution that was tightly integrated with Microsoft Active Directory and provided economical long-term scalability.
To meet the load balancing and redundancy needs, in November 2009 we deployed a redundant pair of F5 BIG-IP® Local Traffic Manager™ (LTM) Application Delivery Controllers in the Bloomington data center. These devices help assure performance and reliability by intelligently load balancing and managing incoming user requests, offloading compute-intensive and repetitive tasks from Web and application servers, and providing advanced application security, acceleration, and optimization.