In early 2012, our IT department was facing a critical decision. I’m the Network Engineer at Saint Michael’s College, a prominent liberal arts college near Burlington, Vermont, and we were quickly outgrowing our storage capacity. Between students, administration and faculty we serve more than 2,500 users and currently manage about 15 TB of unstructured data. We had to decide whether we were going to upgrade our existing SAN or look for an alternative. What I’d like to discuss in this guest post is why we switched to Nasuni and how it’s working for us.
As an IT department we’re always being asked to do more with less, so the idea of buying more hardware to store our growing volume of files was not appealing. We really needed to find a more cost-effective, long-term option because file growth isn’t going to stop. We didn’t want to upgrade our hardware only to find ourselves shopping for more capacity a few years later.
An Unsustainable SAN Environment
Our problems reached beyond storage, as our backup system required a lot of care and feeding. I oversee around 20 to 25 different systems, so I simply didn’t have the time to manage backups. Neither did any of my colleagues in IT. As a result, we had to rely on outside consulting to manage backups and restore operations. Sometimes requests would take days to resolve. Even then there was a good chance we’d have to tell a student or professor that their data was gone for good.
Another frustrating part of our old SAN-based approach was that we sometimes had to turn down perfectly reasonable requests. If someone asked for dedicated space on the network for large projects involving large files, this required careful consideration, and there were times when we did not have the infrastructure to accommodate them.
Finally, this is harder to quantify, but I felt that the level of trust in the network just wasn’t there.
A Long-Term Solution For File Growth
When we started looking at Nasuni, we realized they’d quickly solve our capacity problems. Nasuni’s model of caching to the cloud was attractive because it allowed us to take advantage of the value of public cloud storage without sacrificing security or fast access to frequently used files.
Now that we have been working with Nasuni for nearly two years, I’ve seen first-hand that there is far more to Nasuni than capacity and performance. Getting rid of our old backup system has been a huge step forward. With Nasuni, backup and protection is automatic. We don’t have to think about it, and we certainly don’t have to spend consulting dollars to manage backups. I can restore lost files within minutes. Additionally, the Nasuni Management Console allows me to tell a student or professor exactly when his or her files were lost.
This happened just the other day. One of our foreign exchange students deleted all her data, so she appealed to IT for help. Historically this would have been a big problem. But I got to my desk in the morning, read the work order, found the most recent version of her drive based on the snapshots, and restored her files. Thanks to the granularity of the NMC, I was also able to inform her that the files were deleted sometime between 3 AM and 8 AM. All of this took a few minutes. Most of my time was actually spent trying to find the student, since she didn’t list her email or phone number.
Focusing On More Important Matters
The ease of management has been one of the biggest changes with Nasuni. File storage and protection can’t take up too much of my time because I have 20 other systems to look after. With Nasuni, I spend a few minutes each week managing storage and protection. Over the course of a year, this adds up to a matter of hours. That time is now freed up for me to pursue other initiatives that are more important for the college.
When I do have a storage-related request, I can make it happen quickly. I’ll give you an example. A few months ago I was called into a meeting with my boss and a professor from the media studies department. The professor wanted a dedicated space on the network, and as he and my boss discussed his needs, I sat to the side setting up a share, assigning a quota, establishing permissions and more. In the past, we might have said no to this kind of request. At the very least it would have taken a few more conversations and a long time to set up. With Nasuni, I was able to fulfill his request before the meeting was over.
As an IT group, we’re perpetually looking for solutions that will help us keep costs down while providing better services. We’ve had a lot of success replacing existing technology with simple solutions that require minimal management overhead. Of this group, Nasuni is our flagship. This is the project that has made us proud as an IT department. And while this is hard to quantify, as I said above, I do feel that the level of trust in our network is increasing.
What I like about Nasuni is that we don’t have to be enterprise storage experts. I’ve said before that one of the best things about Nasuni is that it just runs. We don’t have to worry about capacity or protection or spend cycles managing them.
We’ve stopped thinking about whether we can accommodate storage-related requests. Now when someone comes to us, the question is how quickly we can get it done.
View the on-demand webcast and learn how Saint Michael’s College eliminated file storage pain with Nasuni.