University of Arkansas College of Business VDI Performs | Tintri

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Sam M. Walton College of Business Chooses Tintri for Campus-Wide VDI Deployment

University of Arkansas

Tintri Provides Higher IOPS, Better Visibility, and Simplifies Storage Management – with a Lower TCO

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become one of the state’s premier educational institutions and a nationally competitive business school. Walton College accomplishes this distinction by combining excellent academic programs with a wide range of experiential learning options, enabling its students to connect academic scholarship with real business practices. Its graduates are now being recruited by the most selective local, national, and international employers.

IT Challenges

Walton College implemented a very successful server virtualization project in 2012, using VMware ESXi and vCenter. In 2013, the College decided to expand the project by deploying VMware View virtual desktops across the campus, enabling students to work on their assignments remotely.

Scott Zemke is the senior systems engineer at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. He is responsible for ensuring 24x7 availability of all IT infrastructure for the college’s 8,000 faculty, staff, and student end users. “We first tried to virtualize our labs using a streaming OS product from a competitor of VMware,” noted Zemke. “But unfortunately, it didn’t work nearly as well as we wanted it to, so we scrapped that project and purchased licenses for VMware View. Our initial push was to replace all of the desktops in our physical labs with Dell Wyse P25 zero clients. The P25 devices take just 1/25 as much power as traditional desktops. The savings in power costs alone from the P25 zero clients and VMware View solution were very impressive.”

Walton College launched its VMware View deployment using EMC storage arrays, but the platform didn’t have the ‘muscle’ to meet the demands of VDI, according to Zemke. “Our EMC arrays couldn’t deliver the IOPS needed for our 400 virtual desktops and 100 servers. We tried to fix the deficiency by purchasing a Dell EqualLogic system to boost performance. It helped a bit a first – we were able to put a lot more applications on it. But it still wasn’t fast enough for VMware. We clearly needed a more powerful storage solution for our VDI environment.”

Why Tintri?

Zemke and his team started searching for a better storage option for the College’s virtual environment in 2013. “We first heard about Tintri from our sales rep,” noted William Allred, associate director of the technology center at the Walton College. “He used to work at VMware, so he’s quite knowledgeable on the demands of virtual systems. “He was very confident that Tintri could solve all of the performance problems in our VDI environment.”

Walton College’s IT team also evaluated storage solutions from Pure, Nimble, Dell EqualLogic, and Compellent, but both price and performance were much better with Tintri. “We listened to the Tintri sales pitch and saw a demo,” Allred reported. “Our IT team was very impressed with what we saw. None of the other vendors had anything that could come close to Tintri’s features and performance. In my opinion, Tintri is the only game in town – it’s the only storage solution designed to meet the demands of virtualized environments.”

Walton College decided to purchase two VMstore 540 arrays in 2013. “Our Tintri rep told us if we didn’t like the arrays after three months, we could ship them back,” said Zemke. “This took all of the risk out of the trial, since we knew we wouldn’t be out anything except our time. The Tintri arrays worked fabulously in our VDI environment. We never regretted our decision for a minute.”

Testing the Tintri Arrays

During the 90-day evaluation period, Zemke and his team tried really hard to ‘break’ the storage arrays. “The Tintri VMstore systems took everything we could throw at them and didn’t miss a beat,” Zemke admitted. “We quickly realized that it was the right solution for our VDI deployment. The two arrays are working so well for our VDI deployment, we decided to move all of our virtualized servers over to Tintri as well.”

Walton College has now moved all of its production servers and 24TB of data over to its two Tintri T540 arrays. “Tintri provides the ‘best bang for the buck’,” Allred admitted. “The other storage arrays cost at least three times what Tintri does, and I’d much rather have three Tintris than one all-flash array. A future project is to consolidate IT around our entire campus, and to do that we will need even more Tintri units.”

Faster Deployment and Easier Management

The Tintri deployment was incredibly fast, according to Zemke. “Deploying a Tintri array is so much simpler than any other storage platform I have ever used. It actually took me longer to put the rails on the rack than to hook it up and configure it. We’re talking maybe 15 or 20 minutes max. This is a huge contrast to other storage systems we have deployed. For example, another IT department on campus recently bought a unit from Pure Storage. The support rep came out to install the unit, and after two days, he was still here trying to get that array up and running – versus just 15 minutes to deploy the Tintri.”

Before Tintri, Zemke and his team spent several hours each day managing the storage environment. “Our EMC storage was a Fibre channel SAN, so we had to spend lots of time zoning, configuring switches, configuring the LUNs, provisioning the LUNS, and then provisioning the servers to the LUNs – it was an IT manager’s nightmare.” noted Zemke. “All of that complexity is now gone. We don’t have to manage our Tintri storage at all. It’s just there, and it just works.”

Zemke also likes using the Tintri administrative console to track VM performance and latency statistics across compute, network, and storage. “Tintri VMstore really is a zero management environment,” Zemke explained. “We log into the administrative console every now and then just to check on performance, but that’s about it. The interface is very intuitive. I just click on the graphs and it instantly tells me what I need to do to optimize the configuration of our switches, routers, and other components across the board.”

Creating New VMs in Seconds

Creating new virtual machines is also much faster with Tintri. “It used to take us anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to deploy a new server VM from a template on our old storage platform — on a good day,” Zemke reported. “But with Tintri, it takes only three seconds. It actually takes longer to click through the wizard than to make the new virtual machine. That’s a huge reduction in administrative time and overhead. Our IT team members can now focus on more strategic tasks, not just ‘babysitting’ our storage environment.”

Walton College is now running almost everything on Tintri. “Tintri is all about performance and virtualization,” noted Allred. “Everything is now on Tintri except our backups — they really don’t require any knowledge of virtualization or that much performance, they just need a lot of space. Since we still have a bunch of old EqualLogic’s hanging around, we are using those units for our backups. When those arrays reach end-of-life, we will use Tintri for our backups as well.”

Proactive Tintri Support

“Tintri Support responds to issues very quickly, usually before we even know we have a problem,” said Zemke. “Once when I was working behind one of the Tintri racks, I accidentally unplugged the power supply. Before I could plug it back in, a support engineer from Tintri called to say, ‘We noticed that your power supply has failed. We are sending a new one out. Where do you want it shipped?’ I said, ‘Thanks for noticing. But, give me a minute to plug it back and we should be just fine!’”

Looking to the Future

“Our existing Tintri system has more than enough IOPS for our existing VDI user base,” Zemke reported. “Just one Tintri VMstore system can easily support more than 2,000 virtual desktops. But we would like to get a second Tintri to accommodate future virtualization growth, and a third one for our disaster recovery site to enable hot failover and zero downtime.”

“With our Tintri and VMware View environment, our students are now able to use their own devices to connect to campus applications without having to go to the college’s physical lab environments,” noted Allred. “I see all of our physical computer labs going away entirely in the near future. We will still provide office space so students can work on campus when they choose to. We also plan to use VDI to provide more remote access to our class lectures. We already have one class that is exclusively offered online, and both the faculty and the students really like having the flexibility of the VDI environment.”

Closing Thoughts

“When we first heard about Tintri, the solution sounded almost too good to be true,” concluded Allred. “But Tintri has surpassed even our highest expectations. We are now recommending the combined Tintri and VMware solution to our campus’s central IT team for their virtual desktops as well. VMware View is simply the industry’s best virtualization solution, and it performs so well because it’s on Tintri. With Tintri, I don’t have to worry about storage anymore. It’s the perfect solution for virtual environments.”



Fayetteville, Arkansas

Virtualization environment

VMware® vSphere™ 5.5 (100 VMs)

VMware View 5.3 (400 virtual desktops)

Traditional storage: EMC, Dell EqualLogic

VM profile

SAS, SAP, NVivo, REDCap, SQL, WordPress, Digital Surveillance, Oracle, Webservers, Teradici Console, Mediasite, Business Objects, Bitdefender

Key challenges

Provide students and faculty with remote access to campus labs and applications

Improve performance of VDI environment

Simplify storage management

Tintri solution

Two Tintri VMstore™ T540 arrays

Primary use case

Tintri and VMware View are being used to provide 400 virtual desktops for students. The project is now being expanded to offer additional virtual desktops to faculty and staff, and facilitate remote access to college classes.

Business benefits

Obtained higher performing storage for virtual desktops at 1/3 the cost of the alternatives

Reduced time to deploy new VMs from half an hour to just a few seconds

Decreased storage administration time from several hours per day to zero