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University of Freiburg selects Tintri for virtualized infrastructure

Tintri VMstore to underpin virtualized infrastructure of main central datacenter 

About University of Freiburg

The University of Freiburg is a comprehensive university founded in 1457. It is among the oldest and most renowned universities in Germany and offers undergraduate and postgraduate studies in many disciplines, including humanities, natural and engineering sciences, medicine and law. More than 24,000 students from over 100 nations are enrolled in degree programs over 11 faculties and more than 7,000 professors and lecturers, amongst many other employees, are involved in teaching and running the university. To support its efforts to keep teaching standards high, the university has invested a lot in its IT infrastructure over the years. Today a centralized datacenter supports all faculties and students with IT services like email, user administration, computer pools and applications within their virtual infrastructure.

IT Challenges

In the past, many faculties at the university built up their own smaller data centers, tailored to their needs - leading to many pieces of infrastructure running in parallel in different departments and large administrative overheads. To make its IT more efficient, the university had already started to centralize, where possible, all infrastructures into their central data center. The university’s storage manager, Martin Ullrich, explains, “The effort to centralize the entire IT infrastructure has been ongoing for years, and is favored by the university’s administration as it has the potential to save a lot of our IT budget.”

As with all public institutions, IT budgets are very limited, and for years the data center had to rely on older storage systems to underpin its infrastructure. Several SAN-based disk arrays, one old NetApp Filer and some older Linux and Solaris systems, running on traditional hardware, supported all systems, including the virtualized part of the infrastructure running under VMware. The university’s main datacenter already has a very high virtualization rate of about 90%, which totals to around 400 VMs. Essentially, most services where it makes sense, including databases and web servers, are virtualized.

The previous storage setup was, due to the older storage hardware, not performing very well; users running vital VMs regularly complained about slow performance that prevented them from working efficiently. The systems were also not very reliable, resulting in regular downtime. Specifically the older Linux and Solaris systems needed a lot of time and experience to manage them. Ullrich explains: “It was clear that the existing setup did not work any more. We needed a modern storage solution that was supported by a third party and once we got the budget approved, we immediately started the official, mandatory, process of gathering proposals from vendors.”

Advantages of VM-aware storage tip the scale towards Tintri

The process of bidding for a new storage system in Germany is highly regulated and complicated. This had been planned by Ullrich well in advance and was a major part of the university’s storage managers’ role. A big part of the process was to clearly define the criteria of what the new storage system should fulfill and conduct extensive market research to shortlist vendors that matched the criteria. Next to doing his own market research, Ullrich relied on independent research reports, specifically Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, and references from similar organizations and universities to choose the correct vendor for the job.

From a technical point of view, the IT team had already defined that for them. LUN based storage seemed an outdated technology and the next solution should not require LUN management or a tedious storage provisioning process. The previous storage solution, underpinning VMware, had been a disk-based SAN connected with fiber channel. It was clear to the university that this complex and expensive setup was unnecessary, as VMware had already made it possible to create data stores on NFS.

Ullrich explains their plans to go with NFS, “Why should we pay for an expensive SAN infrastructure or licenses for fiber channel switches if we can connect everything, simply, through NFS, which we could enable with our existing 10GB network on the back-end? The decision to go with NFS narrowed the field of suitable vendors, as even most of the newer developments rely solely on SAN protocols and do not offer NFS connectivity. This is where Tintri clearly sticks out from the rest.” As a result, Tintri was invited to present Tintri VMstore and the approach of VM-aware storage to the university’s IT team. After a successful presentation, Tintri introduced their local partner Concat AG in Bensheim to continue the bidding process.

“The university’s call for proposals defined the desired new storage system’s characteristics very clearly and actually did not rule out any approach,” said Michael Gosch, Director Sales Science & Higher Education at Concat AG. “However, one major criteria for the new setup was that it should perform at a high level at all times. This requirement ruled out most monolithic storage approaches from the start, as those systems have proven they cannot support heterogeneous workloads at peak times.”

To no surprise, even vendors of monolithic storage arrays did not offer single arrays, but offered independent systems for the different workloads. Ullrich noted, “The original plan was to have two systems, one for file storage and one for virtualization. But because of the complex nature of the bidding process, we decided not to rule out single, monolithic systems. Eventually the incoming bids confirmed our assessment.”

Six suppliers with solutions that fit the technical requirements made it to the final round, of which five submitted bids. Taking all their criteria into account, the University of Freiburg selected Concat to deploy a completely new storage system that included Tintri’s VMstore hybrid-flash system as the primary storage to support most of the virtualized workloads including the central web content management and e-learning systems.

“Tintri’s partner Concat AG had already deployed many Tintri systems and is a certified partner, which was important for us,” said Ullrich. “Once the entire bidding process ended, we decided to go with Concat AG’s bid, that included Tintri as the storage for virtualization, bundled with EMC Isilon for simple file storage.”

The Tintri solution

The entire installation is split up between the main data center and the university’s back-up data center. The Isilon part consists of two clusters with a total capacity of close to 1PB of storage. As planned, all virtualized workloads are now running on two Tintri VMstore T880 hybrid flash arrays, administered with Tintri Global Center. To be able to replicate between the two sites, Tintri ReplicateVM is utilized and Tintri SyncVM is used to restore VMs easily.

The installation process was straightforward and completed in one afternoon; in fact, it only took a few hours from unpacking to deploying the first VM. After deployment, the virtual workloads were routed to Tintri without disruption. Since then, the system has fully delivered on its promise to offer high performing storage for the university’s virtual environment, with very easy management.

Ullrich summed it up by saying, “The system just delivers. Since moving on to Tintri, complaints about performance are a thing of the past. Even performance-hungry applications are now running without complaints. And whenever we had a question, the excellent Tintri support was there for us.”


Highlights

Industry

Education

Geography

Freiburg, Germany

Virtualization environment

VMware (400 VMs)

VM profile

ReplicateVM

SyncVM

Tintri Global Center

Key challenges

Looking for a storage solution that could provide faster performance with simplified management

Tintri solution

Two Tintri VMstoreTM 880

Primary use case

Tintri is being used to support most of the virtualized workloads, including the central Zope/Plone CMS environment with more than X web portals, the university’s e-learning management system and several Microsoft Windows DC servers.

Business benefits

Provided high performance storage for a highly virtualized environment

Eliminated slow performance and downtime

Gained better visibility into servers, network, and storage to diagnose performance bottlenecks

Ability to replicate VM’s easily using Tintri Global Center

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